The latest in the field of 3D-printed bones is akin to something you’d see in a sci-fi movie. The reality is, that this technology exists and the speed at which it is developing is mind-blowing. The technology was first developed in 1981 by Dr. Hideo Kodama. Using a photopolymer resin that is turned from a liquid into a plastic through a chemical reaction using UV light, he took the idea of 3D printing objects from science fiction to reality.
3D printing in the medical field
It was only in the 90s that 3D printing made its mark in the medical field. Dental implants and custom prosthetics were commonly made during that time. The usage of the technology has since moved on with scientists developing the processes further. This included producing printed scaffolding for organs which allowed organs to grow from the patients’ cells around the produced scaffolding. This evolution has come by leaps and bounds and has drastically changed the medical field, as well as saving thousands of lives.
Many medical devices and surgical tools can 3D print and surgeons can replicate a patient's specific organs to help in preparing for surgery. Surgeons are also using 3D printing technology to get a better understanding of what is happening in their patients' bodies. pic.twitter.com/1SGM61YbO2
— Patrick Leyseele (@LeyseelePatrick) February 9, 2021
One of the most fascinating developments is the ability to print bones. Ordinarily, when a patient needed a replacement bone, an autograft is taken, usually from the ribcage. Then, it is implanted where the new growth needs to be. This is a long, lengthy, and oftentimes, painful process. Having the technology to print a whole new bone without relying on grafts reduces recovery time and significantly reduces complications.
Prior to this, bone replacement would be carried out using materials that are foreign to the human body, such as ceramic or titanium. Although these materials have been invaluable in repairing and recovering from injury, they aren’t without complications. Ceramic and titanium implants can be costly and the recovery time can sometimes be lengthy. Oftentimes, the human body will reject foreign objects which leads to relapses and infection.
The latest with 3D-printed bones
Developing 3D printing bones has the potential to change the entire field of bone replacement. A research team at Northwestern University developed a printable ink that produces synthetic bones. This can encourage bone regeneration and regrowth. It is especially useful when children are needing bone repair and replacement as their bones haven’t finished growing yet. If the implant can grow with them, there are less likely to be complications in the future.
Our scientists and physicians are #3Dprinting bones! See how this impacts the future of #medicine. https://t.co/mDzDRpIMSs pic.twitter.com/MJD3cFBIdM
— Northwestern Medicine (@NorthwesternMed) December 28, 2016
Human bone contains a calcium mineral called hydroxyapatite (HA), which is responsible for bone strength and regrowth. Scientists use a polymer mixed with the HA to create the 3D-printed bone. The polymer, which provides the integrity, produces a scaffold to work with and the hydroxyapatite induces bone growth, as well as allowing flexibility and elasticity. There is even the possibility of adding antibiotics as part of the printing process, which further reduces the risk of infection.
This technology will significantly lower costs for bone replacement surgeries and reduce the recovery times for patients. It will provide excellent alternatives for children needing bone repair and replacement and reduce the risk of infection or rejection.
YouTube: Print-on-demand bone could quickly mend major injuries
Photo credits: The feature image is symbolic and has been taken by Owen Beard.
Sources: Justin Haines (All3DP) / Northwestern Medicine