3D printing revolutionized the world by providing numerous opportunities from space technology to modelling organs. But have you wondered how influential 3D printing can get for repairing damaged bones within our body? Well, Scientists are now looking to incorporate living cells into bone-like structures by using a new ceramic ink. This could one day prove beneficial for repairing damaged bones by applying ink directly into the injury. Currently, the go-to choice for major bone repair is a graft. Scientists have tested synthetic materials like metals, thermoplastics and bioceramics trying to get synthetic bones correctly.
The hybrid nature of the artificial bones makes it difficult to 3D print them. Besides bone’s mineralized weight-bearing structure, bone is also alive, consisting of living tissues that allow it to compress and bend without breaking. This level of complexity is really hard to replicate. To get a 3D printed bone, it had to be remade in a lab. The process involves using either high-temperature furnaces or toxic materials. Living cells have to be added after 3D printing the bone.
The process is slow and imperfect depending on the complexity and the size of the bone. This new 3D printing technique can exterminate the toxic chemicals and extreme heat by printing at room temperatures via a unique new ink on-demand and with live cells ready to grow. It’s called Ceramic Omnidirectional Bioprinting in cell suspensions, using a ceramic-based ink made of calcium phosphate(the main mineral found in human bones and teeth), for producing bone-like structures which can be set in minutes. The ink is extruded into a gelatin support bath containing living cells. After coming in contact with the water in the gelatin bath, the ceramic ink transforms into crystal nanostructures similar to the building blocks of actual bones. The living cells form colonies around the ink, growing into a network of tissues.
This closely mimics ossification, the natural process that creates new bone in the body. The team has already printed delicate bone structures up to about half a centimetre cubed. After 14 days, more than 95% of the cells survived. The ink would solidify in bodily fluid in a clinical setting, printing bone-like structures containing the patient’s own living cells. The advancement in hand-held printing may one day repair immobilized patients on-site. Work is in progress to redesign the support bath to print larger samples. If successful, it might get easy for bones to repair which won’t heal by themselves.