Today a paper from our collaborators at the University of Newcastle has just been released for viewing in the journal Composite Science and Materials. This is written by Priscila Melo from the Dalgarno research group, and features the contributions of Dr Thomas Swift to characterise the materials.
Composites have clinical application for their ability to mimic the hierarchical structure of human tissues. In tissue engineering applications the use of degradable biopolymer matrices reinforced by bioactive ceramics is seen as a viable process to increase osteoconductivity and accelerate tissue regeneration, and technologies such as additive manufacturing provide the design freedom needed to create patient-specific implants with complex shapes and controlled porous structures. In this study a medical grade poly(l-lactide) (PLLA) was used as matrix while apatite-wollastonite (AW) was used as reinforcement (5 wt% loading). Premade rods of composite were pelletized and processed to create a filament with an average diameter of 1.6 mm, using a twin-screw extruder. The resultant filament was 3D printed into three types of porous woodpile samples: PLLA, PLLA reinforced with AW particles, and PLLA with short AW fibres. None of the samples degraded in phosphate buffered solution over a period of 8 weeks, and an average effective modulus of 0.8 GPa, 1 GPa and 1.5 GPa was obtained for the polymer, particle and fibre composites, respectively. Composite samples immersed in simulated body fluid exhibited bioactivity, producing a surface apatite layer. Furthermore, cell viability and differentiation were demonstrated for human mesenchymal stromal cells for all sample types, with mineralisation detected solely for biocomposites. It is concluded that both composites have potential for use in critical size bone defects, with the AW fibre composite showing greater levels of ion release, stimulating more rapid cell proliferation and greater levels of mineralisation.