Researchers Use 3-D Printer to Make Bone-like Material

December 6, 2011 – 10:25 am

Washington State University researchers have used a 3-D printer to create a bone-like material and structure that can be used in orthopaedic procedures, dental work and to deliver medicine for treating osteoporosis. Paired with actual bone, it acts as a scaffold on which new bone can grow and ultimately dissolves with no apparent ill effects. The authors report on successful in vitro tests in the journal Dental Materials (“Effects of silica and zinc oxide doping on mechanical and biological properties of 3-D printed tricalcium phosphate tissue engineering scaffolds”) and say they’re already seeing promising results with in vivo tests on rats and rabbits.

The material grows out of a four-year interdisciplinary effort involving chemistry, materials science, biology and manufacturing. A main finding of the paper is that the addition of silicon and zinc more than doubled the strength of the main material, calcium phosphate.

The printer works by having an inkjet spray a plastic binder over a bed of powder in layers of 20 µm, about half the width of a human hair. Following a computer’s directions, it creates a channeled cylinder the size of a pencil eraser. After just a week in a medium with immature human bone cells, the scaffold was supporting a network of new bone cells. The research was funded with a US$1.5 million grant from the National Institutes of Health.

Source: Washington State University. The original article was written by Eric Sorensen, WSU science writer.

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