The team had previously developed a novel technique to rapidly create musculoskeletal grafts that are generated from CT and MRI patient scans and 3D printed to obtain patient specificity. The goal of this project was to build on this method by investigating the optimal bioink with which to create these grafts. The team created 3D-printed biocompatible scaffolds using a variety bioink compositions to study the ratio of hydroxyapatite (HA) to polycaprolactone (PCL) which would produce a musculoskeletal graft with the best outcomes.
We created nine mixtures of bioink with varying ratios of HA:PCL, from 9 HA: 1 PCL to 1 HA: 9 PCL. Using each of these solutions we printed a femur model to study the microstructure, a cube used to investigate the biomechanical properties, and a lattice circle to examine the cellular adhesion of each of the ratios. We determined that the 6 HA: 4 PCL samples have the greatest similarity to human trabecular bone in terms of microstructure and mechanical properties, though further research is needed to obtain clear data regarding the cell viability of different ratios.
This research experience has reaffirmed the importance of teamwork, organization, and patience. The volume of prints could not have been completed without multiple people consistently working to complete them. It was essential to ensure we were clearly communicating each member’s responsibilities and progress. Additionally, given that we only have one printer, consistent scheduling became a necessity in order to make sure we were maximizing our productivity as a team. Finally, I realized that research is not as straight-forward as it may seem and the ability to troubleshoot and maintain one’s patience is key to successfully completing a project.
I am so grateful to have had to opportunity to work with cutting-edge research and learn to 3D-print as I believe this is a valuable skill that cannot be learned within the classroom. This project has reaffirmed my interest in research and in medicine. I feel motivated to continue to further this project as I believe it could have a major impact in clinical settings. Furthermore, this project highlighted to me how much I enjoy working with others. The opportunity to collaborate with people so different to me is invaluable as I feel I have learned so much from them throughout the process.