Does the gas reach all areas of the scaffold? Neubert:
The gas penetrates deeply into the porous scaffold structure. This depends on the precursors we use. We have studied various options. The depth of penetration varies and depends on the vapor pressures of the precursors. Our approach involves a hybrid technology, where we use a tiny plasma jet (co-developed with our Italian partner Nadir Srl), which we integrated into a 3D printer. Our hybrid process doesn’t apply a finish coating to the finished scaffold structure. Instead, we apply coats throughout the entire printing process. We print one or several layers and then the plasma jet glides across the component. After that, the printing process starts again etc. This ensures that we treat the whole area of the scaffold structure.Who provided the prototype? Neubert:
Our system is based on an existing platform by our project partner GeSiM
(Gesellschaft für Silizium-Mikrosysteme mbH)We used this system to produce a 3D printer and to integrate the plasma jet, allowing us to run both processes almost simultaneously in one device.How long does it take to make an implant? Neubert: By combining both systems in one device, we expect to simplify production processes and subsequently reduce costs. That’s the basic concept, but we are unable to quantify this at this stage because the project has not progressed far enough yet. This generally doesn’t translate into additional waiting times for patients because the printing process only takes a few hours. Meanwhile, it likely takes longer to plan the surgical procedure.Can conventional 3D printers be retrofitted with a plasma jet? Neubert:
This is definitely not possible with conventional devices from the hardware store. Our printing process requires polymer granules, which in turn necessitated the development of a special granular extruder. What are your next steps to prove the appeal of the bone implant?Neubert:
The project partners already conducted in vitro studies during which the coated scaffolds were colonized with osteoblasts. The tests yielded positive results. The next step involves testing in animals to monitor the implants, which is currently in the planning stages. And lastly, we will continue to improve the printer prototype here at the Fraunhofer IST. That is to say, we will make it fully functional to where it can be operated by different people and requires very little instruction. Completion of this step is expected by the end of November 2019. Needless to say, we also hope to subsequently find new project partners to continue to advance the technology and bring it to market and conduct clinical trials at a later date.