3D printing living tissue—including corneas, blood vessels and skin—is no easy task. But at least it's all living tissue. Bone, by contrast, is a mixture of living and inorganic compounds in a highly structured mineral matrix.
3D printing bone, in other words, is a challenge within a challenge.
In an effort to create a synthetic bone material as similar to an autologous graft as possible, Roohani, biochemist Kristopher Kilian and colleagues at UNSW made an ink that could be 3D printed into an aqueous environment like the body. After two years of refining, they created a biocompatible calcium phosphate material that forms a paste at room temperature. When put into a gelatin bath or other solution, a chemical reaction occurs and the paste hardens into a porous nanocrystal matrix similar to structure of native bone tissue.
The technology is still being perfected, with the designers working on large printer baths and testing their process on injured animals. But the FDA has signaled that such a thing could become more commonplace soon. Pretty cool!
3D Printing Bone Directly Into the Body [Megan Scudellari / MIT Spectrum]