Orthopaedics 3D ligaments
Christopher Buksa, an undergraduate mechanical engineering research assistant in the UNM Orthopaedic Biomechanics & Biomaterials Laboratory, operates a custom 3D bioprinter.

Researchers at UNM are hoping to create hybrid bone-ligament tissue through electrospinning and 3-D bioprinting techniques for improved hand and wrist surgery outcomes.

The American Foundation for Surgery of the Hand recently awarded the University of New Mexico Department of Orthopaedics & Rehabilitation’s Research Division a $20,000 grant to use specific patient anatomy in developing bone-ligament adherence systems using a three-dimensional printer. The research project is further supported by a UNM’s Women in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) Award.

“Ligament repair or replacement has been plagued by problems joining soft tissue with adjacent bones,” says Christina Salas, PhD, director of UNM’s Orthopaedics Biomechanics & Biomaterials Laboratory and principal investigator for the research project. “Our proposed methodology would let surgeons import patient-specific bone and ligament anatomy directly into a 3D printer to better join engineered and native bone during joint repairs or replacement. It also allows for high-strength tissue growth and helps avoid bone grafting and suturing, while offering potential to restore full hand and wrist functionality immediately.”

Salas is partnering on the project with student researchers from UNM’s Electrical and Computer Engineering Department, as well as its Mechanical Engineering Department, where she holds a joint appointment. “The long-fiber materials this research project will use for bone-ligament scaffolds show great potential as a biodegradable polymer that, when combined with 3D printing, might enhance scaffold stiffness and strength capabilities to match those of human ligament,” says Salas.

The project will continue through 2017 and final results will be presented at the American Society for Surgery of the Hand (ASSH) annual meeting this fall, and published in ASSH’s “The Journal of Hand Surgery.”

“We are excited about Dr. Salas' research and her contributions to important new information in the field," says Julia Fulghum, director of Advance at UNM, a National Science Foundation-funded project that aims to boost the number of women and minorities in STEM fields.

Visit the UNM School of Medicine’s Department of Orthopaedics and Rehabilitation for additional research projects, and Advance at UNM for more STEM Awards details.