Researchers at Washington State University have developed a way to create bone-like material by using a 3D printer. The new material could pave the way for custom-made replacement tissues, enhanced orthopedic and dental procedures, as well as medical treatments for osteoperosis.
Endowed with a $1.4 million grant from the National Institutes of Health, Mechanical and Materials Engineering professor Sustima Bose and her team were able to devise a way of using bone-like ceramic powder to create bone scaffolding that closely resembles the composition of human bones. The mixture was developed over a four year period involving collaboration with research staff from chemistry, materials science, biology and manufacturing fields. The powder is comprised mainly of calcium phosphate, but adding silicon and zinc to the mixture doubled the strength of the material.
3D printing is nothing new. It has been used to manufacture numerous objects, from jewelery to entire cars, in compiled layers that are only nanometers thick. The technology makes it possible to create structures that cannot be produced in any other way. The creation process uses a modified ProMetal 3D inkjet printer to spray a plastic binder over the powder base. Layers are laid down at a thickness of 20 microns to create a cylinder structure the width of a pencil eraser. This cylinder is used as the base upon which the new bone is constructed.
Bose and her team believe that this technology can have an extreme value in the medical field. In vitro testing performed on lab animals has produced promising results. After being placed in a container with immature human bone cells, signs of significant bone cell development were evident. Thus, if paired with actual bone in a patient, it can help facilitate bone growth. The material is also designed to eventually dissolve within the body with no ill effects to the patient.
Within the next 10 to 20 years, this technology is likely to be commonly used in orthopedic procedures. There are many features that will make this system appealing to the medical field, as physicians can apply it to various maladies.
An image from a CT scan can be uploaded to the printer’s computer that will be used to create a bone scaffold to fit the damaged bone of the patient. Bose believes that “Doctors will be able to custom order bone tissue” which could create a whole new field of customized medical coverage.
The cost of similar printers used in the research continue to drop in price; many are now under $5,000. This could increase the appeal for health care providers who wish to keep costs low and provide excellent medical care.