Scientists use inkjet to print scaffolds for growing bones

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Washington State University (WSU) researchers have used a 3D printer to create a bone-like material.

The inkjet printer is reportedly able to generate structures that can be used in orthopaedic procedures and dental work. These same structures could also be used to deliver medicine for treating osteoporosis.

Paired with actual bone, the material acts as a scaffold for new bone to grow on and ultimately dissolves with no apparent ill effects.

The authors report on successful in vitro tests in the journal Dental Materials and say they’re already seeing promising results with in vivo tests on rats and rabbits.

Susmita Bose, co-author and a professor at WSU’s school of mechanical and materials engineering, said that it’s possible that doctors will be able to custom order replacement bone tissue in a few years.

‘If a doctor has a CT scan of a defect, we can convert it to a CAD file and make the scaffold according to the defect,’ said Bose.

The material is the result of a four-year interdisciplinary effort involving chemistry, materials science, biology and manufacturing. A main finding of the paper is that the addition of silicon and zinc more than doubled the strength of the main material, calcium phosphate. The researchers also spent a year optimising a commercially available ProMetal 3D printer, designed to make metal objects.

The printer is reported to work by having an inkjet spray a plastic binder over a bed of powder in layers of 20 microns. Following a computer’s directions, it creates a channelled cylinder the size of a pencil eraser.

After just a week in a medium with immature human bone cells, the scaffold was supporting a network of new bone cells.