4D printing biomimetic tissue structures using correlative approaches

Marco Curto, Martino Pani, Gianluca Tozzi, Asa Barber, Rachna Narendra Parwani

Research output: Contribution to journalMeeting Abstractpeer-review


The human musculoskeletal system is a biological composite of hard and soft material phases organized into a complex 3D structure. The replication of mechanical properties in 3-dimensional space, so called ‘4D’ techniques, therefore promises next-generation of prosthetics and engineering structures for the musculoskeletal system. Approaches using in situ indentation of tissue correlated with micro computed tomography (μCT) are used here to provide a 4D data set that is representative of the native tissue at high fidelity. Multi-material 3D printing is exploited to realize the collected 4D data set by using materials with a wide range of mechanical properties and printing structures representative of native tissue. We demonstrate this correlative approach to reproduce bone structures and highlight a workflow approach of indentation, μCT and 3D printing to potentially mimic any structure found in the musculoskeletal system.

Structures in the human musculoskeletal system, such as bone [1] and tendon-bone connective tissue [2], can be considered as complex composites of hard and soft materials. Development of prosthetics capable of replacing body parts lost to trauma, disease or congenital conditions requires the accurate replication of the required body part. 3D printing promises considerable advantages over other manufacturing methods in mimicking native tissue, including the ability to produce complex structures [3]. However, accurate representation of whole body parts down to tissue microstructures requires correlative approaches where mechanical properties in 3-dimensional space are known. The objective of this study is to apply in situ indentation, correlate to 3D imaging of bone using μCT and finally 3D print mimicked structures.

Samples of bovine compact bone were imaged at high resolution using μCT (Xradia Versa 510, Zeiss, USA). A custom build in situ micro indentation setup within the μCT was used to map the mechanical properties of the bone at multiple positions. Correlation between sample x-ray attenuation and corresponding elastic modulus found from indentation was established. Data was converted to a 4D data set of elastic modulus values in 3D space, segmented and exported to the 3D printer. An inkjet 3D printer (Projet 5500X, 3D Systems, USA) was used to print materials with a range of mechanical properties that approach those found in the native bone material. Macroscopic testing on both bone samples and 3D printed samples were carried out using standard compression (Instron, UK).

Preliminary results indicated similarity between 3D printed structures and native bone tissue. Macroscopic testing of bone samples and 3D printed equivalents showed additional similarities in stress-strain behaviour.

Our preliminary work presented here indicates that the workflow of 3D imaging correlated to point mechanical measurements using indentation is suitable to give a 4D dataset that is representative of the native bone tissue. 3D printing is able to produce structures that start to mimick bone but are critically dependent on the data segmentation, particularly averaging imaging data to a resolution that is appropriate for the 3D printer.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)32-32
Number of pages1
JournalOrthopaedic Proceedings: A Supplement to The Bone and Joint Journal
Issue numberSUPP 1
Publication statusPublished - 9 Jan 2017


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