Mechanobiologically optimized 3D titanium-mesh scaffolds enhance bone regeneration in critical segmental defects in sheep

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Three-dimensional (3D) titanium-mesh scaffolds offer many advantages over autologous bone grafting for the regeneration of challenging large segmental bone defects. Our study supports the hypothesis that endogenous bone defect regeneration can be promoted by mechanobiologically optimized Ti-mesh scaffolds. Using finite element techniques, two mechanically distinct Ti-mesh scaffolds were designed in a honeycomb-like configuration to minimize stress shielding while ensuring resistance against mechanical failure. Scaffold stiffness was altered through small changes in the strut diameter only. Honeycombs were aligned to form three differently oriented channels (axial, perpendicular, and tilted) to guide the bone regeneration process. The soft scaffold (0.84 GPa stiffness) and a 3.5-fold stiffer scaffold (2.88 GPa) were tested in a critical size bone defect model in vivo in sheep. To verify that local scaffold stiffness could enhance healing, defects were stabilized with either a common locking compression plate that allowed dynamic loading of the 4-cm defect or a rigid custom-made plate that mechanically shielded the defect. Lower stress shielding led to earlier defect bridging, increased endochondral bone formation, and advanced bony regeneration of the critical size defect. This study demonstrates that mechanobiological optimization of 3D additive manufactured Ti-mesh scaffolds can enhance bone regeneration in a translational large animal study.

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