3D printed bones: What is possible?
Are 3D printed bones a reality? Additive manufacturing can be used to improve patient’s healthcare thanks to its various applications in the medical industry. 3D printing prosthesis becomes more and more common, while 3D bioprinting is becoming an interesting solution for regenerative medicine. But is it possible to get real bones out of a 3D printer? If we can see these kinds of experiments in science-fiction movies, be prepared, because it is now part of our reality.
Let’s see what is possible thanks to the evolution of biomedical engineering and how, once again, a 3D printing application is helping to save lives.
3D printing bones for the medical industry
Bones and 3D
3D is a great asset when it comes to bones reconstruction. Using CT scans is allowing different things: you can convert these data in order to get 3D files and work on 3D software. 3D modeling software for the medical sector is essential. It is allowing to create complex shapes, to get a better visualization of the patient’s problem, or even, to simulate a surgery.
It can also be used to print the 3D file for a surgery. But, in which cases would it be a good thing to 3D print bones? This kind of process can be used for people suffering from either trauma or congenital defects, missing bones, skull reconstruction, bone defects, etc.
We saw in a recent blog post that it is already possible to 3D print for knee replacement and jaw reconstruction. One of the reasons why additive manufacturing appears to be the best solution for bone reconstruction is mainly because it is quite a great manufacturing technique to make custom-made products. Nobody has the same bone structure, and 3D printing allows recreating any kind of bone’s shape! Bone can be created according to the patient’s specific morphology.
Evolution of bioprinting
Bioprinting is exciting, and now, it is becoming possible and could really have a big impact on the medical industry! Biomedical engineering surely has a bright future. Bioprinting is working using cells of the patients, it will recreate a body part using the patient’s cells in order to create a tissue matching with the patient.
It is possible, for the moment, to print living tissue to make skin tissues or some organs parts, but could be the perfect solution in the future to recreate exactly the natural bone of the patient. Bone tissue engineering is about the revolutionize bone surgery!
3D printed bones: Promising experiments have been made!
Let’s see through these first experiments how this technique is useful and what kind of problems it will solve. One thing is sure already: this cutting-edge technology will improve the daily life of many patients and could even save lives!
The 3D printed shinbone transplant
A 27-year-old man from Queensland almost lost his leg after an infection which rotted a majority of the bone in his leg. The bone had to be removed and that is where the magic of 3D printing happens. This Australian man almost lost his leg because of this infection but making a new leg using the 3D technology, in order to facilitate a new bone formation, was possible.
This 3D printed bone has been made using what was left of his bone and some of his nerves to create a 36 centimeters scaffold. This 3D printed bone is a prop and will allow the bone to regrow. Hopefully, this man will be able to walk again thanks to the use of the 3D technology.
It is the proof that this manufacturing technique will be a precious help for bone reconstruction.
3D printing hyperelastic bones
Scientists from the Northwestern University developed a new 3D printing process to print hyperelastic bones. What is the point of creating hyperelastic bones? This new technology is allowing the bone regrowth with the growth of the body, which could be incredibly helpful for transplants on children for example! This way, the behavior of the synthetic bone is similar to the behavior of a natural bone.
A printing material made of bone, graphene, ceramic and metal, is available from the bioprinter manufacturer Allevi and Dimension Inx, the scientist’s team who developed this impressive bone.
The development of new 3D printing materials leads to new experimentations like this one, which was impossible a few years earlier. This hyperelastic bone can help to repair damaged bone by printing an implant in the same size and allow the bone regeneration.
Watch the video below to see how this bioprinter works and how elastic is this bio printed material:
The 3D printed vertebra
A 12-year-old boy had a vertebra removed due to prevent cancer from spreading. Indeed, the boy has a malignant tumor on the spinal cord. His vertebral implant has been created using a 3D printer and made out titanium powder. It was the first surgery of this kind, but not the last one!
Indeed, recently, in India, a woman has her spine 3D printed with titanium: this surgery saved her from paralysis and death. A disease manifested in her spine and cause extensive damages. As a result, she no longer had support between her skull and her lower spine. The compression of her respiratory nerves could even have caused her death.
“The patient today on 12 post-operative days is now walking with minimal support, all her pain has gone, her voice and dysphasia has recovered completely and, most importantly, her life was saved by this technique” affirms Dr Naik, her surgeon.
Improving the quality of 3D printed bones for orthopedic surgeries
Researchers worked on the improvement of mechanical properties of 3D printed bones. Bone tissue engineering appears to be a great solution for many sectors but the strength of those implant had to be improved in order to avoid fractures.
The solution is to add a special treatment. The addition of Calcitonin Receptor Fragment Peptide (CRFP) the implant showed a significant increase in the compressive modulus. This experiment improved the mechanical strength of the 3D scaffolds.
This is the proof that researchers are really interested in the 3D technology and believe in it!
The 3D printed skull
If additive manufacturing can help to save human lives, it is also possible to save animal lives. 3D printed prosthetics for animals are already helping cats, dogs, turtles, penguins or lizards to live a better life. But what about 3D printed bones?
Metal 3D printing has been used to 3D print a titanium skull for a dog with cancer. Doctors used these data from CT scans in order to simulate the surgery with 3D modeling software. The aim was to really map the dimension of the 3D printed skull cap.
70% of the dog’s skull had to be removed and replaced with a custom-made skull cap! The surgery has been a real success and the little dog is now cancer free, thanks to this 3D printed skull reconstruction.
As you can see this technology is really revolutionizing the medical sector, as scientist and researchers are really showing a growing interest in tissue engineering using 3D printing. The treatment possibilities will be endless thanks to this 3D technology. It is allowing to build complex shapes in no time in order to make a patient specific implant.
The evolution of bioprinting is also bringing new solutions to cure some diseases, even when it comes to bones. It is now possible to print organs, bones, skin, using patients cells. How far will this 3D printing technology go? Only the future can tell us, but real bones could easily be replaced by 3D printed ones in the future to repair bone defects or replace missing bones.
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Photo credit: https://www.businessinsider.com.au