Aug 14, 2017 | By David

A significant breakthrough for 3D printing in restorative surgery has been achieved recently by researchers in Denmark. For the first time, a 3D printed bone implant successfully ‘fooled’ a host body into ‘believing’ that it was real bone. The hollow 3D printed bone was implanted into the skull of a mouse, and it was sufficiently life-like to allow it to grow into the host tissue without being rejected, even going as far as to form bone marrow.

The production of replacement bone or cartilage is one of the most important applications of 3D printing technology, and a successful solution has the potential to hugely improve the quality of life for many thousands of people. Making use of advanced 3D scanning technology and relatively cheap materials, it will make the surgical profession much more efficient and stands to be both a better and more affordable way of making bone implants than any other technology currently used. There are already a number of great success stories in this field, and the last couple of years have seen a 3D printed shin bone and a 3D printed sternum being successfully implanted, as well as a 3D printed jaw for a cancer patient.

However, the use of 3D printing technology still has a long way to go, with a number of unique problems that bone implants present still to be tackled. The bone is a complex structure, with the outer calcium structure housing the crucial white blood cell-producing marrow inside it. Unlike with other body parts, the bones of a child change drastically as they get older, growing in unpredictable ways for many years. A successful 3D printed bone implant for a younger person needs to be able to accommodate for this. Even for an adult, if a bone implant isn’t able to grow into the real bone tissue surrounding it, its rejection can lead to dangerous infections. Most of the 3D printed bone implants used in the past have been made of some sort of metal, plastic or composite material, which tends to received as a foreign object by the body.

This first successful acceptance of a 3D printed bone implant by a host body, albeit in a mouse’s body, not a human’s, is a huge step in the right direction. The project was led by Associate Professor Morten Østergaard Andersen, SDU Biotechnology, at the University of Southern Denmark. Instead of 3D printing with the kind of metal or plastic material that the body rejects, an artificial bone material was used, which much more closely resembles the real thing. The material was originally created as part of a Bachelor-level engineering project, by Casper Slots and Martin Bonde Jensen from the department of Welfare Technology. It needed to be as strong as bone but also compatible with extrusion from a 3D printer head.

‘’What comes out of the 3D printer is actually ceramic’’, says Østergaard. ‘’The majority of human bones (are) ceramic. We mix a powder which is mainly calcium phosphate with fat, so the texture is just right.’’The material was so life-like, and experiments with the mouse were so successful, that the researchers want to try a similar 3D printed implant with a pig as soon as possible. All the constituent elements of the artificial bone material have already been approved for use in the human body, and laboratory pig tests are the final step before this kind of technology can be trialled on humans for the first time.

The potential benefits of this new artificial bone are so great that some surgeons, like Torben H. Thygesen from the orthodontic department at Odense University Hospital, are getting their jaw surgery patients to wait for its approval for clinical trials instead of trying existing implants. If the implants are eventually approved, patients with jaw cancer, osteoporosis and many other conditions or injuries could soon see their lives being permanently changed for the better.

 

 

Posted in 3D Printing Application

 

 

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