3D printer produces ‘bones’

Washington State University researchers have printed out a bone-like material that can be used in orthopedic procedures and dental work.

Produced using a customized 3D printer, the material can act as a scaffold for new bone to grow on and ultimately dissolves with no apparent ill effects.

The authors say they’re already seeing promising results with in vivo tests on rats and rabbits. And it’s possible that doctors will be able to custom order replacement bone tissue in a few years, says Susmita Bose, co-author and a professor in WSU’s School of Mechanical and Materials Engineering.

“If a doctor has a CT scan of a defect, we can convert it to a CAD file and make the scaffold according to the defect,” she says.

After four years of research, the team’s found that the addition of silicon and zinc more than doubles the strength of the main material, calcium phosphate.

The researchers spent a year optimizing a commercially available ProMetal 3D printer designed to make metal objects.

It now works by having an inkjet spray a plastic binder over a bed of powder in layers of 20 microns. Following a computer’s directions, it creates a channeled cylinder the size of a pencil eraser.

After just a week in a medium with immature human bone cells, the scaffold was supporting a network of new bone cells, say the researchers.