Every year, approximately 4,000 new cases of bone or joint-related cancer are diagnosed in the United States. Treatment and recovery can be painful — often requiring surgical removal of the affected tissue as well as chemotherapy and other treatment options aimed at preventing further spread of the disease.
Biomedical engineer Luiz Bertassoni, D.D.S., Ph.D., an assistant professor in the OHSU School of Dentistry and a member of CEDAR, the Cancer Early Detection Advanced Research center in the OHSU Knight Cancer Institute, has developed a new material that has the ability to replicate human bone tissue, mimicking both its microscopic crystalline structure and its biological activity.
Read ‘Bone in a dish’ opens new window on cancer initiation, metastasis, bone healing about the material developed by Bertassoni.
Like real bone, the material has a three-dimensional mineral structure populated with bone-making, nerve and endothelial cells that self-organize into functioning blood vessels and nerves — a complete replica of human bone down to a nanometer scale that can be produced in a matter of 72 hours or less. Not only has this new material opened doors to new modalities of treatment, but it allows researchers to gain a deeper understanding of how cancer originates and grows within bone tissue.
Innovative, out-of-the-box thinking is not an unfamiliar concept for Bertassoni. Since his arrival at OHSU in 2015, Bertassoni has led several innovative projects that advance research development paradigms.
Read Use of prefabricated blood vessels may revolutionize root canals about the process by which researchers can engineer new blood vessels in teeth.
For example, while conducting research on bioprinting transplantable tissues and organs in 2014, he led a multidisciplinary team of researchers from Harvard, MIT, Stanford and the University of Sydney in developing three-dimensional bioprinting of artificial vascular networks that mimic the body’s circulatory system. This research was a significant advancement in addressing the limited supply of donor organs available for transplantation.
“Sometimes the projects that we’re most proud of are the ones that have the most difficulty getting completed, or even funded,” says Bertassoni. “I find that this is a testament to hitting a certain level of innovation that causes people to push back or question our strategies because it’s just so different from the previous line of thinking. It’s an upward battle trying to convince people otherwise.”
Bertassoni has worked extensively with OHSU Technology Transfer to protect and commercialize several of his inventions. He has worked on several patents and was recently awarded funds through the Biomedical Innovation Program for his BoneMimetics drug discovery program.