Scientists at the Northwestern University in Evanston, Illinois, recently demonstrated a new 3D-printed hyperelastic “bone” that can be used for future implants and grafts to help mend a variety of bone-related injuries. According to Ramille Shah, professor of materials and engineering the university, “the synthetic ‘bone’ that they created is a unique material that is like a synthetic analog of a natural bone. This ‘unique material’ is actually 90 percent hydroxyapatite, this being the main mineral component of bone. However, instead of being very brittle like ceramic, it is actually very elastic.” The “discovery” of this elastic 3D-printed bone is actually a happy accident that happened in the lab. Its unique property allows it to have hyperelastic abilities and lets it regain its original shape when squashed or deformed. Again according to Shah, in their research, she and her fellow researchers “put human stem cells extracted from bone marrow on a sample of the 3D-printed material, and were able to show that this caused them to mature into bone cells.
The bone-like material was also used to help mend spinal defects in rats, as well being utilized to heal the damaged skull of a rhesus macaque monkey.” What came out greatly surprised Shah and her researchers. They never expected that this material would have the type of properties it eventually came to have. They were even incredibly surprised when they 3D-printed the first samples, and came out with the elastic “bone.” At first they expected the finished product to be just a little bit brittle, though far less based on previous experiments in the past. Instead, they never expected what would come out would be quite elastic. To strengthen the study, the research team proved that the material was safe by placing it inside injured mice, which suffered no ill effects. They are hoping that human trials can follow soon, probably by the next half-decade. And the fact that it worked successfully on a macaque monkey bodes very well for the future.
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Basically, this new elastic bone would fit anywhere where bone regeneration would be needed. This would include a wide variety of bone-related injuries including craniofacial and other complicated bone fractures. In short, any bones broken in the body could theoretically have this material applied. An almost similar study for 3D-printing bones for use in surgery was announced just weeks earlier of the work of researchers at the Advanced Materials and Bioengineering Research Centre (AMBER) at Trinity College, Dublin. In the announcement the researchers pioneered a new technique, designed to 3D-print large complex cartilage implants from biomaterials and stem cells to aid with bone regrowth. According to the researchers, this research has brought 3D bone printing a little bit closer to realism since present materials and technology of 3D printing is incapable of producing anything close to the human bone. It is hoped that this medical advancement could finally be brought into realism by the next decade, with the possibility of using mobile 3D printers for bone-related injuries that can be carried inside ambulances and by paramedics.