‘Living’ bone implants 3D bioprinted for patients with bone defects

Scientists from KU Leuven and University Hospitals Leuven (Belgium) have engineered ‘living’ bone implants, inspired by how bone tissue is created in an embryo.

Published in Advanced Science, the collaborative team reports that the bone-regenerating tissue implants could be created on an industrial scale by utilizing 3D bioprinting technologies and that the first of their living implants may be available to patients in as few as 4 years.

We looked at how long bones are developed in the embryo, as this process is similar to what happens when a fracture successfully heals. By copying this natural process, our technology resulted in successful bone formation and healing in live models,” explained Ioannis Papantoniou (KU Leuven).

The callus organoids are capable of growing bone micro-organs, complete with bone marrow compartments. Larger implants were assembled based on these organoid ‘building blocks’, which successfully healed and encouraged bone regeneration in long bone defects in mouse models in 6–8 weeks.

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This technique will allow us to produce tissue on an industrial scale in the near future. The construction of organoids is still done manually, but will soon be replaced by robotics,” Frank Luyten (University Hospitals Leuven) commented.

In preparation for the use of the new, engineered living implants in patients, we have been conducting experimental research with laboratory animals for many years, imitating the application in human beings down to the smallest detail,” added Orthopedic surgeon, Johan Lammens (KU Leuven and University Hospitals Leuven). “We want to be ready to use the new bone implants in patients.”

As the team hopes to see their implants used in patients in 4 years’ time, they also believe that their findings may contribute towards the engineering of personalized implants comprised of other tissues, such as for use in the liver, kidney or heart.

This strategy can revolutionize future healthcare, paving the way to supplement the large need for affordable, transplantable organs and tissues,” Luyten concluded.

Sources: Nilsson Hall G, Mendes LF, Gklava C, Geris L, Luyten FP, Papantoniou I. Developmentally Engineered Callus Organoid Bioassemblies Exhibit Predictive In Vivo Long Bone Healing. Adv. Sci. 7 (1902295) (2020);

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