Forget using inkjet printers for boring, two-dimensional tasks. The era of 3-D printing has officially arrived.
Heck, regenerative medicine company, Organovo, has even unlocked the secret to printing human organs from scratch. So doctors can soon order on-demand livers and lungs for transplant patients.
And now, thanks to new research from Washington State University, doctors will soon be adding bones to their order forms, too.
Check this out…
New Ribs and Femurs Available At the Push of a Button
For the past four years, a team of scientists at WSU has been developing a process to manufacture replacements for damaged bones using 3-D printing technology.
The project started by retrofitting a printer that was previously designed to make 3-D metal objects. The scientists then created the “ink” for the job by using a ceramic, bone-like material made from calcium phosphate.
To construct a bone, the printer sprays a plastic substance over the bone powder to form tiny sheets. Each layer is about 20 microns thick, or half the width of human hair.
After several layers are created, they throw the new bone fragment in an oven at a toasty 2,282 degrees. Finally, scientists simply dip it into a medium of actual human bone cells. And within a week, the cells begin to fuse and grow over the material.
So the printed object doesn’t exactly replace bone entirely. Instead, it acts as a scaffold for new bone to grow over. But once the calcium phosphate dissolves, a new bone is left in its place.
According to Susmita Bose, professor at WSU’s School of Mechanical and Materials Engineering, the material is harmless to the human body. She says, “What we are trying to develop is the controlled degradation kinetics of these scaffolds.”
Best of all, the process isn’t just being tested in a Petri-dish…
In a report recently published in the journal, Dental Materials, Bose claims that the scaffolding has been successfully tested on lab rats and rabbits. And she believes the technology will eventually be used not only in broken bones, but also in dental procedures and for treating osteoporosis.
Check out this video to see the 3-D printer in action:
But the question remains – will this technology be available the next time you break an arm?
Well, that depends on how accident-prone you are.
Wait a Decade or So Before Falling Down Any Stairs
Bose believes it will be at least a decade before we can see this process in action. “The way I envision it is that 10 to 20 years down the line, physicians and surgeons should be able to use these bone scaffolds along with some bone growth factors.”
At that point, if you break a leg, doctors can simply call up the local bone-printing factory and place a custom order by sending in an X-ray.
And depending on the severity of an injury, it could either be used to replace the damaged bone completely, or just speed up the healing process.
Plus, Bose and her team have recently made a printed bone twice as strong by adding zinc oxide and silica to the “ink.”
So hopefully the beefed up material will be available sooner than expected. Since I haven’t broken a bone yet – and I’m sure my luck is going to run out eventually – I’m thinking the faster the better.
As always, we’ll keep you in the loop as any new developments surface on this breakthrough technology. So stay tuned.