Thursday, December 1, 2011

3D printer is able to create bone

Using a modified printer, scientists have found a way to create 3D structures that closely resemble bone. In the future, we should be able to use this for certain medical procedures where bone needs to be repaired. The machine, that works similar to an ordinary inkjet printer, can be used to custom build pieces of bone. After all the necessary testing has been done, doctors could order pieces of bone which they need for their patients, and it would simply be made using a computer to give out a print job.

Printing bone
The printer, developed by Washington State University, works by spraying plastic over a powder bed. The thickness equals that of half a human hair. A computer tells the printer in which direction to go, making it possible to create bone in all sorts of shapes. After the printing job is done, the bone needs to spend a week in a medium with immature bone cells. The print functions as a scaffold where bone cells can find a home. Eventually, a ready-to-implant piece of bone is created.
Animal testing
While the printed pieces of bone have not yet been tested in humans, they have shown some promising results in rats and rabbits. No side effects where reported, which means that the body's immune system does not attack the foreign objects that are present in the printed bone. That is a major plus, as the body's refusal to accept synthetically made organic material is a big problem.

Curing disease
In various diseases patients could benefit from bone replacements. Osteoporosis, where the bone is weak, is an example. In addition, precisely crafted pieces of bone can also be used in dentistry. While the researchers do not state it, the bone can probably also be used in bone cancer. After cutting a piece of bone, it can be repaired by replacing it with exactly the same piece that has been cut away. While it all looks very promising, it is still needed to prove that the lab-made bone can be used in a clinical setting with human patients.

Printing organs
It is not only possible to create bone with a printer. Scientists have been trying to use 3D printers to create whole organs for years. By precisely printing layers of cells on top of each other, the fine strucure of an organ could me mimicked, something which is impossible with conventional techniques. Currently, scientists try to grow organs by using nature's own building plan: by using embryonic tissue, that eventually needs to grow into an adult organ ready for transplantation. But simply printing the organs could be much easier, when we get it to work.

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