by Krishnendu K


January 2, 2021

A recent study published in Advanced Materials – a scientific journal, states that 3D-expertise can now be assembled like Lego blocks to heal damaged bones and gentle tissues. Inspired by Lego blocks, the tiny blocks facilitate scaffolding due to which both hard and soft tissue can regrow easier than typical regeneration methods, consistent with new research. Each piece is 1.5 millimeters cubed or roughly the dimensions of a little tick.

"Our patent-pending scaffolding is easy to use; it can be stacked together like Legos and placed in thousands of different configurations to match the complexity and size of almost any situation."

- Luiz Bertassoni, Ph.D., led the technology's development

Lego Inspired Bone Structure

Researchers from Oregon Health & Science University have 3D printed miniature Lego-style’ bone bricks,’ capable of healing broken skeletal tissue. The scientists’ tiny blocks, which are only the dimensions of a little flea, function as support for regrowth.

Moreover, the pieces’ attachable nature enables them to be interlocked like toy bricks, offering scalability alongside millions of potential strategic configurations. Eventually, the Oregon team hopes to scale the technology and use the micro cases to supply laboratory-made organs for human transplant.

Screenshot 2020 07 24 at 15.11.30

Structural Details

The small devices are modular and may be assembled to suit almost any space. When putting together block segments containing four layers of four-bricks-by-four bricks, the scientists estimate quite 29,000 different configurations are often created.

To show the scaffolds’ potential for regenerative applications, the team used Digital Light Processing (DLP) 3D printing to make a series of shaped products, including a five-pointed rose-like geometry. Different combinations of humankind’s recombinant growth factors were manually loaded into the varied shapes.


The Oregon team’s ‘bone-bricks’ are capable of as many as 29,000 combinations

Advances in 3D printing have enabled patient-specific implantable constructs to be designed in a more scalable way, and in some cases they can now even be produced on-site within hospitals.

The Oregon team have developed a novel scaffolding system, which precisely places hollow blocks filled with small amounts of growth factor gel, closest to where they are needed.

The team’s microcages are hollow on the inside, which enables them to be loaded with a cargo of different bio-gel compositions in a controllable way, and to create scaffolds with spatially defined instructive cues. 

The team 3D printed a number of blocks loaded with microscale granular hydrogels containing various growth factors. Results showed that the cells had entered into the scaffolds, in a quick and controllable manner, thus accelerating the process of new tissue formation and healing. 

Benefits of the Model

A particular advantage of this new support system is that its lighter blocks can be filled with small amounts of gel containing multiple growth factors that are perfectly placed nearest to where they are supposed to be. The study found growth factor-filled blocks fixed near fixed mice bones led to about three times more vessel growth than conventional scaffolding material.

Bertassoni and his team also reinvented their 3D-printed technology that could be used to renew bones that have to be rejoined for cancer treatment, spinal fusion techniques, and build up weaker jawbones before a dental prosthetic. By revamping the composition of the technology’s 3D-printed parts, they hope it could also build or repair soft tissues. With a lot more research, they expect the modular micro cage approach could even make organs for transplant.

“The 3D-printed micro cage technology improves healing by stimulating the right type of cells to grow in the right place, and at the right time,”

- study co-author Ramesh Subbiah, Ph.D

Revolutionary Breakthrough

These tiny hollow 3D-printed bricks serve as supports on which both hard and soft tissue can regrow faster than current standard methods. Each part is 1.5 millimeters cubed or roughly the size of a tick. These hollow blocks can be filled with tiny amounts of gel containing various growth factors that are perfectly placed closest to where they are needed.

The concept of 3D bioprinting prosthetics is already being explored by several researchers from universities around the world. Scientists from the University of Manchester, for instance, have developed a similar bone brick to that of the American team. The device was created to answer the need for desperate medical care in Middle Eastern war camps.

Each brick (pictured) was 1.5 millimeters cubed in size, or around the area of a small flea. Photo via OHSU.

Medical Headways

The Delft University of Technology’s scientists have revamped and printed a porous titanium bone implant with disinfecting properties. The graft’s antibacterial behavior could give create a new type of implant that outlives patients with minimal maintenance in the future.

Scientists from Texas A&M University have amalgamated 3D printing, biomaterial science, and stem cell biology to create new and more efficient facial bone grafts. High-osteogenic implants facilitate bone cell growth and serve as a robust platform for bone regeneration.


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