With the constant advancements in medical technology, it is no secret that the medical industry, as a whole, has been able to combat more diseases and administer more demanding surgical procedures, such as orthopaedic, neurological, and even cardiovascular corrective implants.
However, with greater complexity in procedures comes the heightened risk of side effects that may be costly to remedy. In the case of implant-supported corrective surgeries, the body’s immune system may view the implants as foreign or harmful, and subsequently develop a hypersensitive allergy to them—the beginning of post-surgery complications like impaired wound healing, infections, effusions, or loosened implants altogether.
Presently, immunosuppressive drugs or therapy are the most common stopgap measure for acute bodily reactions to implants. Long-term dependence on these drugs to fully overcome these complications, however, is detrimental and far from sustainable. This prolonged recovery process leads not only to increased post-surgery follow-up workloads for doctors and healthcare providers, but also places great mental and financial strain on patients.
The good news is that the risk of rejections occurring can be significantly reduced by replacing artificial implants with tissue regeneration technology. Before delving further into the benefits of said technology, it is important to first understand what it means. Tissue regeneration is the process in which new tissue is guided to naturally grow or renew itself to replace those that are damaged from disease. Over the past 30 years, the medical sector has been hard at work to unlock the potential of tissue engineering and has seen some notable breakthroughs, allowing for even the growth of an entire skull after a cranioplasty. Today, tissue engineering can either be done in-vitro (inserting fabricated tissue into the affected area) or stimulated in-situ (harnessing the body’s regenerative abilities to rebuild lost or damaged tissues).
One of the most common applications of tissue engineering is through 3D-printed biomaterial scaffolds that are installed in the body to encourage tissue and bone growth in the surrounding area. This is achieved through replicating the microstructure that is representative of native bone while also imitating the interconnected pores necessary to facilitate the stages of tissue healing. Hence, a conducive environment for bone cells and blood vessels to grow into is created.
Once the tissue and bones are successfully regrown, the scaffolds are designed to dissolve into water and carbon dioxide, leaving behind nothing but a fully healed body part. This allows patients to rest assured that no foreign materials are left in their bodies for any longer than necessary, in contrast to conventional implants that might need to stay in the body for a lifetime.
This technology has been successfully implemented in the region by Osteopore—a regenerative solutions provider headquartered in Singapore that also operates on Malaysian shores. Their implants are made of a bioresorbable polymer, chosen specifically for its versatility to be applied across various applications in craniofacial, orthopaedic, oral maxillofacial, and dental surgery. This material will then degrade over a period of 18 to 24 months, leaving only natural, healthy bone in its place. Osteopore’s tissue regeneration procedures conducted in Malaysia have so far reported zero rejections, a testament to the viability and effectiveness of regenerative technology.
The reduced risk of post-surgery complications has in turn helped decrease number of follow-up visits to only 2-3 years of follow-up visits with doctors, as compared to a lifetime of visits normally. Additionally, a re-replacement surgery will be equivalent to the cost of current surgery (excluding inflation and cost of new technology). This means the total cost is doubled or more to the healthcare system per patient that require re-replacement surgery, not to mention the risk of surgery does increase with age. Furthermore, 3D printing has been reported to produce between 70 to 90 per cent less waste compared to traditional manufacturing methods.
Clearly, tissue regeneration technology is making its mark on the local and global healthcare industry. The financial and medical benefits garnered through the combination of regenerative medicine and 3D printing techniques have proven that tissue engineering is not only an increasingly feasible alternative to traditional implants, but that this technology is here to stay.
As such, it is more timely than ever for doctors and stakeholders in the healthcare industry to encourage more widespread adoption of regenerative technology. Enhancements on a larger scale, such as through increased government funding and greater accessibility to this technology for everyday patients, can go a long way towards ensuring a better future for the local medical industry and—in the long run—positioning Malaysia as a regional leader in championing regenerative medicine.