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INKplant prints the future of regenerative medicine to face the ageing of the European population

Nineteen partners from universities, research centers, SMEs, multinational corporations, and hospitals are collaborating on this project, funded by the EU with over 6 million euros. A multidisciplinary team working on the fusion of different biomaterials and 3D printing technologies aims to bring a new solution to the fabrication of biomimetic implants.

The ageing of the population is one of the great challenges of Europe in the 21st century. By 2024, 22% of Europeans are expected to be over 65. Patients suffering from chronic defects of the joints or defects in the oral and maxillofacial region have a significantly reduced quality of life and are continuously dependent on healthcare. The Covid-19 crisis has shown how dangerous chronically overcrowded hospitals and large cohorts of care-dependent, risk-group patients can become. Therefore, science and technology must work together to ensure that living longer can be synonymous with living well. INKplant, European Union’s H2020 funded project, was conceived to face this challenge and democratize its new solutions.

INKplant is an ambitious initiative with a 6 million euro budget that will create patient-specific implants by combining different advanced biomaterials and state-of-the-art technologies. This is possible thanks to high-resolution additive manufacturing technologies (lithographic ceramic manufacturing and 3D multi-material inkjet printing) and advanced simulation and biological evaluation. The resultant implants will conform to each patient like a tailor-made suit.

Reducing healthcare costs and rehabilitation time
The INKplant approach could significantly reduce or even avoid the need for invasive surgical procedures using inorganic prosthetic components. The methods envisaged in the project represent an enormous improvement in the quality of life of the patients and will reduce the invasivity as well as the complications arising from prosthetic components by improving the biocompatibility of the materials used.

INKplant will provide new solutions to some of the most widespread and urgent medical problems in European healthcare. The project partners will work on four different use cases: defects of meniscus, osteochondral defects, palatal defects, and patient-specific implants for dental and oral rehabilitation.

To alleviate the suffering of patients with joint defects, INKplant will develop meniscus implants and implants to repair osteochondral defects in the knee, thus avoiding the need for total joint replacement.

For defects in the oral and maxillofacial region, caused by the common birth abnormalities or as a result of diseases such as cancer, INKplant will develop implants for palatal defect repair and implants for patients for whom, due to the lack of local bone in the jaws, neither conventional dental prosthesis nor conventional dental implants present feasible treatment options.

Personalized regenerative therapies for everyone
Medical implants for tissue repair are currently manufactured in standard sizes and shapes from inorganic, non-resorbable materials. Unlike these current implants and artificial prostheses, which are perceived by the body as foreign materials, INKplant will enable the manufacturing of individually customized implants with improved biomechanical performance and biocompatibility that will not only alleviate the suffering but will also have the potential to promote the regeneration of the damaged tissues in the body.

By reaching the thresholds of complexity and detail in material production with high precision and production capacity, INKplant addresses the complexity of regenerating different tissues in the body. Furthermore, the project will bring individualised, gender-specific treatments for challenging medical problems to mass production. With these contributions, INKplant aims to reduce healthcare costs and rehabilitation time.

This will be made possible by the hybrid additive printing process developed during the project. The implants will be characterized by their different materials mimicking the biological and mechanical performance of the addressed soft and hard tissues.

Experts collaborating to boost the EU position in biofabrication
Coordinated by the Austrian applied research company PROFACTOR, 19 partners from seven countries are collaborating on this project to face some of the biggest threats to quality of life during aging: Reduced mobility due to joint problems and reduced oral function due to ill-fitting prosthetic restorations. The international INKplant team strives for excellence in innovation through state-of-the-art technology and science. INKplant’s ambitious challenges are addressed from a multidisciplinary and multisectoral perspective.

The consortium includes experts from tissue engineering, biomaterials, 3D printing, standardisation, and bioethics. It also includes world market leaders in additive manufacturing such as Lithoz and Stratasys, and four different University Hospitals, two of them among the largest in Europe (Charité Berlin and Vienna General Hospital).

INKplant combines medical and technical expertise, together with cross-cutting issues such as standardisation and ethical aspects. Only with this integrated vision of regenerative and personalised medicine is it possible to make a real impact in society.