Ceramic ink could let doctors 3D print bones directly into a patient’s body

The term 3D bioprinting refers to the use of 3D printing technology to fabricate biomedical parts that, eventually, could be used to create replacement organs or other body parts as required. While we’re not at that point just yet, a number of big advances have been made toward this dream over the past couple of decades.

Now research from the University of New South Wales in Sydney, Australia, have demonstrated a promising advance in one of the toughest areas of 3D bioprinting: 3D printing bones.

They have developed a special ceramic ink that’s able to be printed with live cells, and without dangerous chemicals, at room temperature. The eventual goal is to be able to 3D print bones directly into the cavity of a patient, for scenarios in which a certain portion of bone has been removed or destroyed.

“This is the first technique of its kind that can create a construct that accurately mimics the physical and biological attributes of native bone,” Kristopher Kilian, associate professor in the School of Materials Science and Engineering at the University of New South Wales, told Digital Trends. “This opens up a variety of opportunities [including] repair of large-sized bone defects [in which] the body cannot automatically repair itself, where such defects might lead to losing the limb. We can also utilize the technology to generate bone models for scientists for studying bone physiology [and] pathology, or drug screening for the discovery of new drugs.”

So far, the team has optimized the printing process, the ink, and the bath in which they create the bonelike structures using living cells. As IEEE Spectrum reported, they have so far printed small bone structures. The next step will involve carrying out small animal trials to see if this can be used to help heal large-sized wounds.

“In line with this, we hope to identify partners to work with towards regulatory approval of the material,” Kilian said. “The technology allows us to pursue fabrication of patient-specific synthetic grafts in the laboratory which contains all the requisite biological entities of native bone. In the long term, we hope to translate the ink and printers directly into operating theatres for bone reconstruction during surgery.”

A paper describing the work was recently published in the journal Advanced Functional Materials.

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