Scientists Develop New Type of Artificial Bone Using 3D Printer

Sep 29, 2016 06:37 AM EDT

A team of researchers from Northwestern University have developed a new synthetic 3D printed material that could be potentially used as a cheaper, more customizable bone grafts.

The material, described in a paper published in the journal Science, could replace the ceramic fillers or scaffolds being used by surgeons today to repair damaged bone. Dubbed as hyperelastic bone, the new composite material was made to be biocompatible, porous and pliable.

The hyperelastic bone is developed using the nearly the same minerals found in human bones, hydroxyapatite and collagen. The combination of hydroxyapatite and collagen allows the bone to be stiff while also being flexible enough to withstand as much force as possible.

However, instead of collagen, the new material is composed of 10 percent soft polymer that coats the hydroxyapatite, which takes up the remaining 90 percent. Researchers noted that, even with high levels of hydroxyapatite, the hyperelastic bone could still recover after being squeezed and stretched.

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"The first time that we actually 3D printed this material, we were very surprised to find that when we squeezed or deformed it, it bounced right back to its original shape," said Ramille Shah, an assistant professor at Northwestern University and one of the authors of the study, in a report from The Verge.

The researchers tested the efficacy of their new material in rats and rhesus monkey. In the rat experiment, the researchers used the hyperelastic bone to fuse two vertebrae together in the spine. On the other hand, the researchers used the new material to replace a section of unhealthy bone in the skull of the monkey.

A few weeks later, the researchers observed that the hyperelastic bone implant has fully integrated with the host tissue, with evidences of new blood vessels and bone formation.

Despite the promising results of their experiments, the researchers noted that their findings should be first reproduced in large-scale animal studies. However, they hope to test their new material in humans within five years.

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