My project aimed to create 3D-printed biocompatible bone/cartilage scaffolds based on medical images from a spectrum of material for implantation in vivo (i.e. a living organism). The materials currently on the market are rather limited in terms of how quickly they break down, how flexibly they are, and how much they resemble the microstructure of human bone, to name a few traits. We used mixtures of a plastic that can breakdown inside the body, polycaprolactone (PCL), and hydroxyapatite (HA), a mineral that is found in bone, to create the scaffolds. Attempting to obtain a full spectrum, we printed a section of femur with 9 mass-to-mass ratios: 1 HA: 9 PCL to 9 HA: 1 PCL. By the end of the semester, we successfully printed using, and documented how to best use, each ratio.
When I look back on it, I learned so much throughout the summer. I was immediately introduced into the world of medical imaging as I was working in a radiology lab. Prior to working in the lab, I had no idea what the difference between a MRI, PET, or CT scan—this ignorance was short lived. I delved into their uses and differences while trying to complete a variety of tasks. In addition to my new knowledge of medical imaging, I learned some material science. My primary partner was an engineer who taught me how to think through desired material attributes and how to obtain them, as well as how to 3D print. Despite the importance of this scientific knowledge, I believe the most important skill I acquired cannot be found in a textbook. My experience taught me how to troubleshoot problems when one finds themselves in uncharted territory. Most of what I did was being done for the first time. When something went wrong, the responsibility fell on me and the other members of the lab to work past that issue.
PURM reaffirmed my interest in research and medicine. I had been wavering on whether I intended to continue to pre-med track, but then, through this program, I saw how innovative and impactful medicine can be. In this manner, my experience acted as a confirmation of my educational goals.