Nature-Inspired Unconventional Approaches to Develop 3D Bioceramic Scaffolds with Enhanced Regenerative Ability

Material science is a relevant discipline in support of regenerative medicine. Indeed, tissue regeneration requires the use of scaffolds able to guide and sustain the natural cell metabolism towards tissue regrowth. This need is particularly important in musculoskeletal regeneration, such as in the case of diseased bone or osteocartilaginous regions for which calcium phosphate-based scaffolds are considered as the golden solution. However, various technological barriers related to conventional ceramic processing have thus far hampered the achievement of biomimetic and bioactive scaffolds as effective solutions for still unmet clinical needs in orthopaedics. Driven by such highly impacting socioeconomic needs, new nature-inspired approaches promise to make a technological leap forward in the development of advanced biomaterials. The present review illustrates ion-doped apatites as biomimetic materials whose bioactivity resides in their unstable chemical composition and nanocrystallinity, both of which are, however, destroyed by the classical sintering treatment. In the following, recent nature-inspired methods preventing the use of high-temperature treatments, based on (i) chemically hardening bioceramics, (ii) biomineralisation process, and (iii) biomorphic transformations, are illustrated. These methods can generate products with advanced biofunctional properties, particularly biomorphic transformations represent an emerging approach that could pave the way to a technological leap forward in medicine and also in various other application fields.

Bioactive Calcium Phosphate-Based Composites for Bone Regeneration

Calcium phosphates (CaPs) are widely accepted biomaterials able to promote the regeneration of bone tissue. However, the regeneration of critical-sized bone defects has been considered challenging, and the development of bioceramics exhibiting enhanced bioactivity, bioresorbability and mechanical performance is highly demanded. In this respect, the tuning of their chemical composition, crystal size and morphology have been the matter of intense research in the last decades, including the preparation of composites. The development of effective bioceramic composite scaffolds relies on effective manufacturing techniques able to control the final multi-scale porosity of the devices, relevant to ensure osteointegration and bio-competent mechanical performance. In this context, the present work provides an overview about the reported strategies to develop and optimize bioceramics, while also highlighting future perspectives in the development of bioactive ceramic composites for bone tissue regeneration

Bone Regeneration in Load-Bearing Segmental Defects, Guided by Biomorphic, Hierarchically Structured Apatitic Scaffold

The regeneration of load-bearing segmental bone defects remains a significant clinical problem in orthopedics, mainly due to the lack of scaffolds with composition and 3D porous structure effective in guiding and sustaining new bone formation and vascularization in large bone defects. In the present study, biomorphic calcium phosphate bone scaffolds (GreenBone™) featuring osteon-mimicking, hierarchically organized, 3D porous structure and lamellar nano-architecture were implanted in a critical cortical defect in sheep and compared with allograft. Two different types of scaffolds were tested: one made of ion-doped hydroxyapatite/β-tricalcium-phosphate (GB-1) and other made of undoped hydroxyapatite only (GB-2). X-ray diffraction patterns of GB-1 and GB-2 confirmed that both scaffolds were made of hydroxyapatite, with a minor amount of β-TCP in GB-1. The chemical composition analysis, obtained by ICP-OES spectrometer, highlighted the carbonation extent and the presence of small amounts of Mg and Sr as doping ions in GB-1. SEM micrographs showed the channel-like wide open porosity of the biomorphic scaffolds and the typical architecture of internal channel walls, characterized by a cell structure mimicking the natural parenchyma of the rattan wood used as a template for the scaffold fabrication. Both GB-1 and GB-2 scaffolds show very similar porosity extent and 3D organization, as also revealed by mercury intrusion porosimetry. Comparing the two scaffolds, GB-1 showed slightly higher fracture strength, as well as improved stability at the stress plateau. In comparison to allograft, at the follow-up time of 6 months, both GB-1 and GB-2 scaffolds showed higher new bone formation and quality of regenerated bone (trabecular thickness, number, and separation). In addition, higher osteoid surface (OS/BS), osteoid thickness (OS.Th), osteoblast surface (Ob.S/BS), vessels/microvessels numbers, as well as substantial osteoclast-mediated implant resorption were observed. The highest values in OS.Th and Ob. S/BS parameters were found in GB-1 scaffold. Finally, Bone Mineralization Index of new bone within scaffolds, as determined by micro-indentation, showed a significantly higher microhardness for GB-1 scaffold in comparison to GB-2. These findings suggested that the biomorphic calcium phosphate scaffolds were able to promote regeneration of load-bearing segmental bone defects in a clinically relevant scenario, which still represents one of the greatest challenges in orthopedics nowadays.

Bone-like ceramic scaffolds designed with bioinspired porosity induce a different stem cell response

Biomaterial science increasingly seeks more biomimetic scaffolds that functionally augment the native bone tissue. In this paper, a new concept of a structural scaffold design is presented where the physiological multi-scale architecture is fully incorporated in a single-scaffold solution. Hydroxyapatite (HA) and β-tricalcium phosphate (β-TCP) bioceramic scaffolds with different bioinspired porosity, mimicking the spongy and cortical bone tissue, were studied. In vitro experiments, looking at the mesenchymal stem cells behaviour, were conducted in a perfusion bioreactor that mimics the physiological conditions in terms of interstitial fluid flow and associated induced shear stress. All the biomaterials enhanced cell adhesion and cell viability. Cortical bone scaffolds, with an aligned architecture, induced an overexpression of several late stage genes involved in the process of osteogenic differentiation compared to the spongy bone scaffolds. This study reveals the exciting prospect of bioinspired porous designed ceramic scaffolds that combines both cortical and cancellous bone in a single ceramic bone graft. It is prospected that dual core shell scaffold could significantly modulate osteogenic processes, once implanted in patients, rapidly forming mature bone tissue at the tissue interface, followed by subsequent bone maturation in the inner spongy structure.

Ceramics with the signature of wood: a mechanical insight

In an attempt to mimic the outstanding mechanical properties of wood and bone, a 3D heterogeneous chemistry approach has been used in a biomorphic transformation process (in which sintering is avoided) to fabricate ceramics from rattan wood, preserving its hierarchical fibrous microstructure. The resulting material (called biomorphic apatite ​[BA] henceforth) possesses a highly bioactive composition and is characterised by a multiscale hierarchical pore structure, based on nanotwinned hydroxyapatite lamellae, which is shown to display a lacunar fractal nature. The mechanical properties of BA are found to be exceptional (when compared with usual porous hydroxyapatite and other ceramics obtained from wood through sintering) and unique ​as they occupy a zone in the Ashby map previously free from ceramics, but not far from wood and bone. Mechanical tests show the following: (i) the strength in tension may exceed that in compression, (ii) failure in compression involves complex exfoliation patterns, thus resulting in high toughness, (iii) unlike in sintered porous hydroxyapatite, fracture does not occur ‘instantaneously,’ ​but its growth may be observed, and it exhibits tortuous patterns that follow the original fibrillar structure of wood, thus yielding outstanding toughness, (iv) the anisotropy of the elastic stiffness and strength show unprecedented values when situations of stresses parallel and orthogonal to the main channels are compared. Despite being a ceramic material, BA displays a mechanical behavior similar on the one hand to the ligneous material from which it was produced (therefore behaving as a ‘ceramic with the signature of wood’) and on the other hand to the cortical/spongy osseous complex constituting the structure of compact bone

Heterogeneous chemistry in the 3-D state: an original approach to generate bioactive, mechanically-competent bone scaffolds

The present work investigates heterogeneous gas–solid reactions involved in the biomorphic transformation of natural wood into large 3-D hydroxyapatite (HA) scaffolds recapitulating physico-chemical, morphological and mechanical features typical of natural bone. In particular, we found that the use of a reactive CO2/H2O gas mixture, under supercritical conditions at high pressure, permits to control heterogeneous CaO-CO2 reactions throughout the whole bulk and to direct the nucleation-growth of CaCO3 at a relatively low temperature, thus obtaining a highly reactive 3-D precursor enabling the formation of a large biomorphic HA scaffold preserving fine nanostructure by a hydrothermal process. To the best of our knowledge, the application of heterogeneous chemical reactions in the 3-D state is an original way to generate large HA scaffolds maintaining bio-relevant ionic substitutions, with specific regard to Mg2+, Sr2+ and CO32− ions, conferring a superior ability to guide cell fate. We hypothesize that the original nanostructure of the final 3-D HA scaffold, not achievable by the classic sintering procedure, and the multi-scale hierarchical organization inherited by the original template, account for its high compression strength with damage-tolerant mechanical behaviour. The ability of the new scaffold to induce bone regeneration is attested by the overexpression of genes, early and late markers of the osteogenic differentiation pathway, and by the in vivo osteoinductivity. We hypothesize that the unique association of bioactive chemical composition, nanostructure and multi-scale hierarchy can synergistically act as instructing signals for cells to generate new bone tissue with organized 3-D architecture. These results point to its great applicative potential for the regeneration of large bone defects, which is a still unmet clinical need.