Time to Change the Ink in the Bone Printer

From Scientific American:

So the researchers, led by assistant professor Ramille Shah and her postdoctoral fellow Adam Jakus, developed a synthetic “hyperelastic” bone tissue that can be produced with 3D printable ink. In several experiments with rodents and a rhesus macaque, the material appeared to be able to fuse with new natural bone. It is strong enough to be used in a femur and flexible enough to be squeezed through a small incision, the two say in their results published Wednesday in Science Translational Medicine.

The synthetic bone is still years from being tested in people.  But if it continues to perform well it could be considered for use in spinal fusion, bone fractures, anterior cruciate ligament (ACR) or rotator cuff injuries, or craniofacial procedures, Shah said at a news conference introducing the work. The hope is that the material will also be shown to grow with the patient, meaning it could be used in children as well as adults.

This compilation shows hyperelastic artificial bone being 3D-printed into various forms. Later, the video shows how this synthetic bone might be squeezed through a tiny opening during minimally invasive surgery. Credit: Adam E. Jakus, PhD

The team’s insight came from the idea of combining materials used in bioengineering with production approaches from industry, says Jakus, who has an academic background in metallurgy and explosive materials. He says he was inspired by the extrusion process used to manufacture goods ranging from bricks to toilets. He combined elements of that technical process with materials often used in medicine, including hydroxyapatite, a form of calcium commonly found in bone. The team’s printer extrudes layer upon layer of a compound made of hydroxyapatite and a biodegradable polyester that binds the layers of ink together.

The researchers can print their …

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