3D-Printed Bones May Be on Horizon

Developments in the medical world are underway that are equal parts fascinating, inspirational, and possibly even macabre.

Additive manufacturing—creating three-dimensional solid objects from a digital file—has become a billon-dollar industry whose potential is limited only by the imaginations of individuals with access to a 3D printer. Within that market, 3D bioprinting, which involves fabricating replacement tissues and organs for patients layer by layer to create a three-dimensional structure, is rapidly evolving in its own right. Numerous companies, including Organovo, Cyfuse Biomedical, and BioBots, are active in the space and making incredible strides to improve outcomes for patients dealing with a range of illnesses and injuries. The specialty now has its own conferences, including the 3D Bioprinting Conference held recently in the Netherlands and a July 2016 event in Singapore.

Currently, objects 3D printed for medical implant applications are made of plastic, ceramic, or metal. A team of researchers at Southern Medical University in Guangzhou, China, however, is working to develop potentially implantable bones made using a material comprising finely ground bones layered thousands of times with biological glue. According to SMU president and research team leader Huang Wenhua, the reason behind using allograft bone powder as a 3D printed material is that it is made from creatures in the same species. Theoretically, this approach would increase the chances of biological compatibility.

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