We won't be surprised if the time comes when we can print just about anything. Even today 3D printing is advanced enough to create toys, a fully-operational car, and even teeth and blood vessels. Now, researchers from the Washington State University have come up with a technique to make new bones using a commercially-available 3D printer they optimized for the study.
The repurposed printer sprays a plastic binder over a bed of bone-like calcium phosphate powder with silicon and zinc additives that double the strength of the man-made bone. This results in a sheet half a hair thin, so the process is repeated over and over again, building up layers of the ultra-thin sheet to create the structure. These artificial bones don't actually replace real ones — they act as a temporary scaffold on which new bone cells grow, eventually dissolving inside the body with no side effects.
Thus far, tests performed on mice and rabbits have been successful, with bone cell growth on the scaffolds observed within just a week. In the future, doctors could use the technique for a variety of medical purposes like growing new bones for orthopedic procedures, creating new teeth for dental work, and delivering medicine for osteoporosis. Professor Susmita Bose, one of the researchers, says that if doctors have the necessary CT scan of a defect or an injury, they can even tailor a scaffold according to the patient's needs.
While this new development could completely change the way we deal with bone diseases and injuries, it may take a long time before it becomes a viable option for treatment. "The way I envision it is that 10 to 20 years down the line, physicians and surgeons should be able to use these bone scaffolds along with some bone growth factors, whether it is for jaw bone fixation or spinal fusion fixation," Bose says.