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Researchers develop material for 3D-printing bone

By Ryan Maass
Northwestern University researchers develop material for 3D printing bone. Pictured: (A) Easy to synthesize volumes of liquid-based HB inks (inset) can be 3D-printed into a variety of flexible structures. (B) Full-scale, anatomically correct parts, such as a human mandible, comprising more than 250 layers, can be designed, 3D-printed, and washed to rapidly produce a ready-to-implant object. (C) Photograph series illustrating that custom-sized HAPLGA sleeves can be snuggly stretched around, cut, and sutured to a soft tissue. (D) Independently 3D-printed HAPLGA miniature-scale versions of a human skull, skull cap, mandible, and upper thoracic seamlessly fused together to create highly complex structures by using HB ink applied to points of contact. (E) Black light–illuminated optical photographs of the outside and internal cross sections of HAPLGA fiber with (top) and without (bottom) incorporated recombinant green fluorescent protein. Image by Jakus et al./Science Translational Medicine
Northwestern University researchers develop material for 3D printing bone. Pictured: (A) Easy to synthesize volumes of liquid-based HB inks (inset) can be 3D-printed into a variety of flexible structures. (B) Full-scale, anatomically correct parts, such as a human mandible, comprising more than 250 layers, can be designed, 3D-printed, and washed to rapidly produce a ready-to-implant object. (C) Photograph series illustrating that custom-sized HAPLGA sleeves can be snuggly stretched around, cut, and sutured to a soft tissue. (D) Independently 3D-printed HAPLGA miniature-scale versions of a human skull, skull cap, mandible, and upper thoracic seamlessly fused together to create highly complex structures by using HB ink applied to points of contact. (E) Black light–illuminated optical photographs of the outside and internal cross sections of HAPLGA fiber with (top) and without (bottom) incorporated recombinant green fluorescent protein. Image by Jakus et al./Science Translational Medicine

EVANSTON, Ill., Sept. 29 (UPI) -- A team of researchers from Northwestern University have developed a 3D-printable ink that produces synthetic bone material, which they hope will ease the lives of children needing implantation surgery in the future.

The study, published in Science Translational Medicine, produced a hyperelastic bone-like material that can be easily customized to fit the needs of its host. Currently, bone implantation surgery typically involves harvesting needed bone from elsewhere in the body, which can cause additional complications and pain. Lead researcher Ramille Shah says this places a particular strain on growing children who need repeated surgeries as they age.

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"Adults have more options when it comes to implants," Shah said in a press release. "Pediatric patients do not. If you give them a permanent implant, you have to do more surgeries in the future as they grow. They might face years of difficulty."

The 3D-printed synthetic bone material used in the study was made using a mix of hydroxyapatite, a calcium mineral found in natural human bone, with a biodegradable polymer. Researchers evaluated the material with stem cells and within animal models.

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"Cells can sense the hydroxyapatite and respond to its bioactivity," Shah added. "When you put stem cells on our scaffolds, they turn into bone cells and start to up-regulate their expression of bone specific genes. This is in the absence of any other osteo-inducing substances. It's just the interaction between the cells and the material itself."

Northwestern's research team also experimented by combining other materials into the ink, including antibiotics. Shah says the biggest advantage of their new product is its ability to be customized for patients.

"The turnaround time for an implant that's specialized for a customer could be within 24 hours. That could change the world of craniofacial and orthopaedic surgery, and, I hope, will improve patient outcomes," she said.

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