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November 04, 2015

Graduate student to compete in Falling Walls Lab finale

grad student at whiteboard
Ryan Trombetta, a PhD student in the lab of Hani Awad, will compete against 100 young researchers from around the world in Falling Walls Lab finale this weekend in Berlin.

Ryan Trombetta will present his pitch about 3-D-printed bone grafts containing antibiotics to an international audience next week at the Falling Walls Lab finale in Berlin, Germany.

Trombetta, a PhD student in the lab of Hani Awad, professor of biomedical engineering, took first place in the University’s competition last spring and was awarded a check for $500 and an expenses-paid trip to the Falling Walls conference, which starts Sunday, November 8. The conference commemorates the fall of the Berlin Wall by giving young entrepreneurs and inventors from around the world the opportunity to express ideas that will “break down the walls” and remove barriers to progress in science and society. Trombetta will compete against 100 young researchers from around the world in the finale.

Trombetta’s winning pitch described how 3-D-printed bone grafts containing antibiotics and biofilm dispersal agents could simplify and improve the treatment of osteomyelitis, a bacterial bone infection that can develop following surgical reconstruction of fractures.

Fractures that require open reduction and fixation with hardware have a 5 percent risk of osteomyelitis, an infection that occurs when bacteria contaminates damaged bones protruding from the skin or contaminates the fixation hardware used to realign them. Osteomyelitis can lead to amputation, and in in extreme cases, sepsis and death.

Current treatments require two surgeries. First, doctors remove the infected bone and surrounding soft tissue in a procedure called debridement and insert cement beads filled with antibiotics in an effort to eliminate any remaining bacteria. After a few weeks or even months, a second surgery is done to remove the beads and insert a bone graft to initiate healing.

And yet, even after all of this, says Trombetta, the bacteria can still survive in a biofilm state that is resistant to antibiotics, as they have demonstrated in their experiments.


“To overcome this, we can generate precise geometries off of a patient’s CT scan that can then be used to produce a biocompatible graft with 3-D printing for local drug delivery,” Trombetta says.

The Awad lab, which is part of the Center for Musculoskeletal Research, has shown that 3-D printed grafts in mice models have the potential to heal fractures within 12 weeks.

“Our goal is that, once a bone infection occurs, we can print a patient-specific graft containing antibiotics and biofilm dispersal agents that have the ability to remove the shield of the biofilm, exposing the bacteria to the antibiotics,” Trombetta says. “Thus the antibiotics can eliminate the bacteria causing the infection, and the bone can heal, forming a complete union. This will not only break down the wall of biofilm but also break down the wall of bacterial bone infection.”

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