Jan 10, 2022
How does the INKplant project differ from previous R&D projects you’ve participated in and what role does UPM play in the development of the multimaterial implants?
INKplant is an extremely singular project, which stands out because of its multidisciplinary and cross-sectoral consortium, made up of various experts in healthcare, medical devices, materials science, mechanical engineering, manufacturing technologies, standardization, and ethics, with hospitals, research centers, universities, and several companies involved. Expertise in all of these disciplines is required for transforming healthcare and for producing innovative tissue engineering solutions to reach patients in an efficient, sustainable, and safe manner.
The environment of collaboration that we have achieved within the project is also very unique, despite the challenging circumstances of the pandemic. Teaming up with such motivated, experienced, and creative colleagues is making the innovation wheel spin at a very high speed, as can be seen from the achievements of the first year.
In previous EU projects (i.e. TOMAX and UBORA), UPM acquired valuable experience in design for additive manufacturing and with co-creation strategies for open-source medical technologies. Within INKplant, UPM is attempting to promote integrative design for additive manufacturing methodologies while contributing different materials and additive manufacturing technologies for the development of multi-material concepts for tissue engineering scaffolds and articular implants.
What would you say have been UPM’s greatest achievements in terms of R&D and innovation?
Considering the R&D achievements within INKplant, during the first year of the project, UPM has been developing a collection of tissue engineering scaffolds with geometrical features designed to take into account the materials and additive manufacturing technologies to be applied for their materialization.
With this approach, we expect to enhance the biomechanical performance, printability, precision, and quality of various INKplant solutions. In addition, UPM has been progressing with conceptual designs and prototypes of multi-material scaffolds and implants (rapid polymeric prototypes), which are now being optimized for evaluating printability and performance, employing more high-performance materials and technologies developed by partners. In these developments, co-creation with INKplant’s partners is proving essential and truly innovative multi-material solutions, like the meniscus scaffold of the figure, are a result of inspiring discussions and fruitful conversations among many colleagues of the consortium.
You bring a vast amount of experience and expertise to the project, however, is there anything you hope to learn from the INKplant project? Perhaps from other partners?
A researcher that does not learn from their partners is destined for failure. In a way, like a professor that does not learn together with their students. In my personal view, the success of EU projects like INKplant always depends on the desire to learn from colleagues and to collaborate with professionals from different backgrounds and perspectives.
INKplant stands out because of its diversity, and we have enjoyed some fascinating debates throughout these last few months. Personally, I am learning from our partners in every single meeting, tyring to see how mechanical engineering principles may be useful for engineering implants of the future. It is fundamental for us to understand as much as we can about current pathologies such as meniscus injuries, osteochondral defects, and orofacial problems, as well as material synthesis and processing, and printing technologies. The mentioned pathologies are addressed in new ways, thanks to INKplant, by using highly innovative materials and additive technologies, whose special features and properties have been a source of learning and inspiration for us.
How do you envision the next 10 years in terms of additive manufacturing and what key strides do you hope to see in biomedical engineering?
Considering the relevant impact that INKplant and similar R&D projects will make, personalized implants should become the standard approach for tissue repair and regeneration by 2030. This will bring vital improvements to life quality and help to minimize recovery time after surgery. Moreover, it will contribute to a more efficient healthcare industry by employing “3D printing-on-demand” principles.
Parallel advances in the 3D printing of multifunctional or “smart” materials, capable of responding in a controlled way to external stimuli, will lead to medical devices based on 4D printing and even “ND” printing processes. This will arguably promote minimally invasive procedures and lead to a new generation of implants capable of evolving with patients, according to their healing and growing processes, and these implants will even have self-sensing or self-monitoring abilities.
As a result, I expect captivating advances in additive manufacturing as key enabling technologies for the future of biomedical engineering throughout this decade. However, in my view, the fundamental challenges and required transformations are more human than technological. We should work towards healthcare equity and make sure that these scientific-technological advances are deployed in a way that leaves no one behind. To this end, promoting open-source medical devices and transforming biomedical engineering education, with a clearer focus on ethics-guided research and technological equity, is fundamental.