3D printed Bone tissue scaffolds make their way into dental clinics

Dr Margam Chandrasekaran, chief executive officer (CEO) of Bio-scaffold International, with the new 3-D printing machine.

PM’s National day rally speech makes Indian scientist a star

SINGAPORE – Two things have happened since scientist Dr Margam Chandrasekaran’s research was mentioned by Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong in his National Day Rally (NDR) speech.

Dr Chandrasekaran’s mailbox has suddenly been inundated with job applications, with applicants expressing their keenness to work with him and his team at Bio Scaffold International (BSI).

And two, he has been made to feel like a bit of a star – with interview requests and his photographs appearing in newspapers. Unusual for a researcher and scientist like Dr Chandrasekaran, 48, who has spent most of his adult life either in a laboratory or nose-deep in books. His work in bio scaffolds and its production using 3-D printing received generous mention from the PM in the NDR speech, who even showed pictures of it in a slide show.

Dr Chandrasekaran was expecting a passing mention but he didn’t know it would be so prominent. “Two weeks before the speech, we were contacted to provide information about our work. We were told the PM will shortlist from a selection of works chosen.

So I had an idea that it would be mentioned. But I was pleasantly surprised when he gave it the time he did,” Dr Chandrasekaran said.

The PM in his speech spoke of the “3D printer which can print bone tissue scaffolds” which help in bone growth after a tooth extraction. Developed in S’pore and made with 3D printing technology, they are placed into gap after extraction to help with healing. This achievement was cited as an example of how “technology will transform our lives”.

“We have 3D printing, a machine which can print spare parts, print models, print toys, print pistols, print body parts, organs; print things which can make a difference to our lives,” he said.

Earlier this year, the Government had announced that it will invest S$500 million over five years to boost Singapore’s advanced manufacturing technologies, which include those for the 3D printing industry.

A spokesperson with the Economic Development Board added: “With 3D printing technologies, manufacturing plants may be able to produce complex and unique products, which would not be possible through conventional means.”

3D printed Bone tissue scaffolds

The bio-scaffoldThe bio-scaffold, which resembles a tiny cylinder with holes, allows natural bone formation within the tooth socket and will dissolve in the body within two to six months.
Photo: A*STAR

The bone tissue scaffold called the Alvelac, invented by Dr Chandrasekaran and his team, is a tiny cylindrical scaffold that can be placed into the gum after a tooth extraction. It not only helps in the growth of the bone but also helps the gums to retain their shape and prevent collapsing. The scaffold is made from a bio polymer which disintegrates within two to six months. It’s been certified as bio compatible and safe and dentists can do the procedure for as much as $150 to $250. The scaffold plays a similar role to scaffolds put up during construction of buildings.

Small in size, a tiny bone tissue scaffold is taking on a bigger role in dental procedures here. The bio-scaffold, made of biocompatible polymers, is placed into the gap left by tooth extractions, which then helps the bone to grow back.

The porous bio-scaffold, which resembles a tiny cylinder with holes, is placed snugly in the tooth socket after tooth extraction. It allows natural bone formation within the socket and will dissolve in the body within two to six months.

Proper bone growth is important for tooth implants in later stages as implants need a bone base to hold the tooth steady.

According to the BSI, the bio-scaffolds were launched for “market testing and feedback” in 2009 to 2010 and were launched commercially in April this year after strengthening the scaffold, among other changes. Each scaffold costs around S$40 and is sold directly to dentists, who then recommend it to their patients.

Beyond dental implants, BSI said it is looking to expand this technology to cosmetology and orthopaedics “by leveraging on the strengths of its partner research institutes and academia”.

Meanwhile, SIMTech said it is “now building capabilities in 3D printing of ceramic and titanium scaffolds”.

About 123 dental clinics in Singapore are now active users of these bio-scaffolds, which are smaller than the size of a tooth. They are currently available in Taiwan and the United Kingdom, with plans to introduce them to India this year and Europe by next year.

Dr Chandrasekaran, who came from Chennai to National Technological University to do his PhD in 1995, has been working full-time with BSI since 2007. But his research with bio scaffolds started in early 2001 when he was working with the Singapore Institute of Manufacturing Technology. He worked with a group of seven to eight researchers, but the main work was done by him (he is the lead inventor in the patent).

Dr Tay Bee Yen, Dr Xhang Su Xia and Dr Annie Tan are the co-inventors.

Dr Chandrasekaran is happy that his work has got the recognition it deserves.

However, he promises that he will continue to work hard and improve his invention with the feedback he gets from clients and various markets around the world.

“My work is the laboratory and will continue to be so,” he said.

The Bio-Scaffold International (BSI), a biomedical technology company incorporated in Singapore in 1999, collaborated with the Singapore Institute of Manufacturing Technology (SIMTech) and the National University of Singapore to design and develop the scaffold, called Bioscaff Alvelac, for dental application. SIMTech is a research arm under the Agency for Science, Technology and Research.