Researchers Could Soon 3D Print Bones Directly Into the Human Body

The innovation could revolutionize bone-related healthcare.
Loukia Papadopoulos

Medical-related 3D printing has come a long way especially in producing organs. What once seemed like science fiction has become reality and the healthcare industry is better for it.

But what about 3D printing bones?  Back in 2016, we reported on the work of some researchers at Northwestern University, Illinois, that had 3D printed a scaffolding material that combined hydroxyapatite, a mineral found in bone, with polycaprolactone, a biocompatible polymer. 

The end result was a bone replacement that the body did not reject. Since then, however, we heard little about 3D printed bones. Now, a team at the University of New South Wales (UNSW) in Sydney, Australia, has engineered a ceramic ink that can be 3D-printed with live cells and without the dangerous chemicals often associated with this process.

The researchers are even claiming that it could allow the bones to be 3D printed directly into the human body. “In contrast to previous materials, our technique offers a way to print constructs in situ which mimic the structure and chemistry of the bone,” said study co-author Iman Roohani, a bioengineer at UNSW's School of Chemistry.

Currently, the most common method for repairing bones is autologous (meaning from the self) bone grafting. However, these grafts have high rates of infection and simply don’t work if the bone material needed is too big.

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Therefore, UNSW researchers came up with ink that could be 3D printed into an aqueous environment that mimics the human body. Their ink takes the form of a paste at room temperature, but once put into a gelatin bath, it hardens into a nanocrystal matrix similar to the structure of real bone tissue.

The team is now attempting to print large structures and testing on animals to see how effective their 3D printed bone parts are. The study is published in the journal Advanced Functional Materials.

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