Kristen Thometz | September 28, 2016
New technology developed in Chicago could lead to major advances in healing broken bones and other sports medicine injuries.
Using a commercially available 3-D printer and custom ink formulation, Northwestern University researchers created a synthetic bone capable of stimulating new bone growth.
“Ideally, it would be great if we could have these printers in a hospital setting where we can provide them the hyper-elastic bone ink, and then they can make patient-specific implants that day,” said Ramille Shah, assistant professor in the department of materials science and engineering, and surgery transplant division at Northwestern University.
“I think that is a possibility with this material.”
When used in recent studies, these 3-D printed bones successfully repaired spinal injuries in rodents and a large skull defect in a monkey. Those findings are being published Wednesday in the peer-reviewed journal Science Translational Medicine.
Printing a better bone
Shah heads a research lab at Northwestern that has spent the last several years working on developing 3-D printable materials, including the development of 3-D inks for both biomedical and non-biomedical applications.
Through this work researchers developed a “unique 3-D ink formulation” that makes it possible to print 3-D objects primarily composed of the main mineral found in natural bone tissue, Shah said. The other component of the 3-D ink is both biocompatible and biodegradable.
The printed product, which researchers are calling hyper-elastic bone, is “highly elastic,” even though it’s primarily made up of material that tends to be “very brittle,” Shah said.