Originally published by 3D Printing Industry – As a corn-based and biodegradable plastic, PLA, the material used in almost every desktop 3D printer, has been researched for its potential industrial applications.
The material is particularly desirable in place of other plastics, like ABS, as they are typically petroleum-based and harmful to the environment.

With research dating back to 2008, Professor Alan Lau and his research teams have been looking into ways to make PLA suited to biomedical applications.
Now at Swinburne University of Technology, Professor Lau has revealed that the investigations are ready for a collaborator, to test the material in living organisms.
After this stage, the devised PLA composite could reach clinical trials, which can lead to its use as an alternative medical implant for humans.

An alternative to toxic plastic and metal 

Medical implants, used to pin together broken bones and create support in the body, are typically made from metal, i.e. stainless steel or titanium, or a high strength plastic like PEEK.
Though these implants have the structural integrity required in bone repair, their main disadvantage is that the implant has to be removed at a later stage in the patient’s life.
Removal of the constructs can leave bones brittle, and also causes more risk to the patient through a subsequent operation.
PLA by comparison does not have the structural integrity of materials like steel and PEEK.
It’s gradual absorbance into the body however, makes the material a more attractive alternative.
And so Professor Lau’s research has been looking at ways to improve the strength of PLA.

One of the strongest fibers in nature

Silk is one of the strongest fibers in the natural world.
Made of a triangular cross-section of connecting fibroin proteins, the material forms hydrogen bonds within its structure, which is the secret to its strength.

In Professor Lau’s research, silk fibers are added to PLA as a structural reinforcement.

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