3D-printed Bone Could Change the Future of Reconstructive Surgery

revolutionary 3D-printed bone

3D-printed bone could revolutionize the world of medicine, particularly when it comes to reconstructive surgery.

The new material is called hyperelastic bone, or HB for short. Doctors can place the 3D-printed bone material under the skin. The synthetic bone acts as a kind of scaffold on which new bone material can grow over.

An article in the Science Translational Medicine described this remarkable synthetic material. The main ingredient used in making it is a mineral called hydroxyapatite. It’s a naturally occurring form of calcium. In fact, hydroxyapatite is already present in the bone.  Surgeons were already using it in reconstructive surgery.

The problem with this material is that it’s very brittle. So the researchers mixed it with a substance that could counteract that. They added a synthetic polymer in the mix, which makes it more flexible. The new material which resulted from this combination is used to print out bone grafts. The various tests and experiments the doctors performed were highly encouraging.

One of the study’s authors, Ramille Shah said that they were very surprised the first they used the material. They did not expect it to be so elastic. According to Shah, who is also an assistant professor at Northwestern University, specializing in materials science, when they pushed down on the 3D-printed bone, it bounced right back up.

What’s so remarkable about this new bone material is that it’s very malleable. It can be cut, rolled up or folded into places where the actual bone is missing. It doesn’t have to be glued or stitched. The material is also very porous. This is absolutely vital. If bone grafts are to be successful, blood vessels need to grow in that area. Without blood, the grafted tissue dies. The porosity of this material encourages the growth of new veins and capillaries.

3D-printed Bone Already Used in Surgery

To find out what the limits of this substance are, researchers performed a variety of tests. The used stem cells, which they then placed on an HB scaffold, in the hopes that the cells would start growing. The human stem cells had no difficulty growing around the scaffold. Not only that, but within a matter of weeks, they managed to fill up every space they had at their disposal. And after that, they stated producing bone minerals on their own.

Adam Jakus, the co-author of the paper that presented the miraculous properties of HB, said the researchers saw remarkable results when they tested the material on mice. The cells responded well to the new material. And just as important is the fact that it integrated well with the mouse tissue. There’s was no immune response, or inflammation.

Researchers also used the material on during a real surgery situation. They implanted 3D-printed bone material into the skull of a rhesus monkey. Researchers used the bone graft to replace an area of the skull that was unhealthy. The implant was highly successful. The 3D-printed bone integrated with the local tissue, and new blood vessels formed in the area.

Of course, the scope of the tests has been quite limited.  More testing needs to be done until the researchers can move on to humans.