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New technique could be the break 3D-printed bones have been waiting for

The dream of 3D-printing bones for use in surgery just got a whole lot more realistic thanks to the work of researchers at the Advanced Materials and Bioengineering Research Centre (AMBER) at Trinity College, Dublin. They’ve pioneered a new technique, designed to 3D-print large complex cartilage implants from biomaterials and stem cells to aid with bone regrowth.

“Bioprinting vascularized solid organs such as bone directly is not possibly using existing printing technology,” Professor Daniel Kelly of Trinity College’s School of Engineering told Digital Trends. Kelly is one of the key researchers on the project.

Related: New “bio-ink” could be used to print new cartilage and bone implants

bone

To address this challenge, Kelly and his team took inspiration from the way in which real bones develop. “Our bones begin life as a simpler cartilage template, which develops into a more complex tissue as we grow,” he continued. “So we have instead used bioprinting technology to fabricate mechanically reinforced cartilage templates in the shape of an adult bone, and demonstrated that these tissues develop into functional bone organs following implantation into the body.”

It’s pretty astonishing stuff, as you can see from the video above, and it offers an alternative to the idea of directly bioprinting a complex tissue or organ. Instead, the work suggests a more promising strategy is bioprinting the developmental precursor using stem cells. “Here the bio-inks are designed to provide an environment that enables the conversion of this precursor tissue into a more complex organ,” Kelly said.

There’s still work to be done before the technique is used to replace current methods of carrying out bone implants, but it’s certainly a development worth getting excited about.

“We see this as a platform technology for treating a range of diseases and injuries to the musculoskeletal system,” Kelly concluded. “We are currently working on developing this technology to bioprint biological implants that could be used to regenerate diseased synovial joints. Such strategies may eventually be used as an alternative to metal and polymer joint replacement prostheses.”