Are 3D-Printed Bones the Answer to Personalized Bone Repair Surgery?

Are 3D-Printed Bones the Answer to Personalized Bone Repair Surgery?

By Minttu Kansikas

3D printing is revolutionizing medical care by enabling more detailed, versatile and cost effective manufacturing of products and devices that are central to research and medical applications. The use of biomaterials, or bioink, has created a field, which is still in its early phases. An exciting example of the use of 3D printing is bone production, where using personalized 3D-printed scaffolds in combination with patient derived stem cells can produce bone grafts.

More recently, promising results for bone repair surgery were achieved with a synthetic bone implant that could be rapidly 3D printed, as reported in an article published in Science Translational Medicine. Researchers are calling this new 3D-printed synthetic bone material “hyperelastic bone”.

How Is 3D-Printed Bone Made?

To create hyperelastic bone, a polymer extensively used in medicine and tissue engineering was combined with a major bone and tooth calcium phosphate called hydroxyapatite that was shown to be biologically compatible as a 3D-printed bone graft. Professor Ramille Shah and colleagues, at Chicago’s Northwestern University, described this 3D-printed biomaterial to be highly versatile and surgically friendly, in addition to being biologically and mechanically suitable.

Rodent studies demonstrated tissue integration, blood vessel formation as well as bone regeneration associated to the porous bone graft, while in vitro cell viability and proliferation analyses support the regenerative potential of the material. The ability of the material to support the growth of new bone, without bone-growth inducing factors speaks for its applicability, but it is also exciting for regenerative medicine. The favorable characteristics of the 3D-printed hyperelastic bone were confirmed in a monkey to demonstrate biocompatibility in a scale and biological niche more relevant to humans.

Can 3D Printing Revolutionize Bone Grafting?

Since the orthopedic grafting principles laid the foundations for modern bone grafting a century ago, the techniques and materials have evolved. This is particularly true for the past few decades during which the possibility of synthetic and naturally occurring bone graft materials have been extensively studied.

The challenges with graft materials often relate to their surgical or manufacturing techniques, biological efficacies and responses or production scales and costs. Graft porosity and patient-tailored grafts have been achieved with a variety of technologies, but the properties of the materials or handling techniques have continued to challenge the practicability of their use. The high printing speeds and minimal processing, make the material described by Professor Shah potentially both practical and rapidly printed to use.

Combining extensively studied materials with additive manufacturing techniques extends their potential applicability in patient care. The implications of safe, effective and rapidly 3D-printed bone grafts are exciting, particularly for enabling personalized care to reach patients. Such material could enable printing and preparing bone grafts to patient-tailored, individual needs.

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