Inspired by the ancient Japanese art of origami of folding paper into miniature shapes and figures, bioengineers in Lowell, University del Massachusetts (USA), under the guidance of Gulden Camci Unal, have developed a “platform” for the regeneration of biological tissue, especially bone tissue, capable of curing patients suffering from damage caused by disease, degeneration or trauma. The partially mineralized paper, shaped using a 3D printer, has provided an effective and economic structure for multiplying osteoblasts (bone cells) in the desired form. As researchers have written in the journal MRS Communications, the “cultivation” of the osteoblasts is continued regularly for 21 days, enabling excellent results to be achieved.

By why use paper? Other materials can also be effective in making cells grow, but – as the US researchers explained – it is not always easy to make porous and biocompatible “support structures” of a significant size (several centimeters), like is possible on the other hand to do with paper. Thanks to its structure, paper (which has been previously sterilized) allows for the passage of oxygen and nutritive substances to the cells, during their multiplication phase. In addition, paper has other advantages, including much lower costs, availability, accessibility and ease of manufacturing.

The team from the University of Massachusetts used geometric mini-support structures, assembled as modules similar to the cells of a beehive. If new experiments also provide positive outcomes, these modules will be able to be transplanted directly in patients, after ossification, because they do not (or, at least, should not) be rejected. However, this technique can also be used for other purposes: for example, to check the behaviour of tumor cells exposed to different types of chemotherapy.