Apparently all you need is an inkjet printer and some researchers from Washington State University (WSU) at Pullman to create new bone. From the Nov. 29, 2011 news item (written by Eric Sorenson of WSU) on Nanowerk,
Washington State University researchers have used a 3D printer to create a bone-like material and structure that can be used in orthopedic procedures, dental work and to deliver medicine for treating osteoporosis. Paired with actual bone, it acts as a scaffold for new bone to grow on and ultimately dissolves with no apparent ill effects. [emphasis mine]
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 3D printed tricalcium phosphate tissue engineering scaffolds” [behind a paywall]) and say they’re already seeing promising results with in vivo tests on rats and rabbits. It’s possible that doctors will be able to custom order replacement bone tissue in a few years, said Susmita Bose, co-author and professor in WSU’s School of Mechanical and Materials Engineering.
The printer works by having an inkjet spray a plastic binder over a bed of powder in layers of 20 microns, 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.
Here’s a video of Dr. Bose discussing the inkjet printer that produces bone-like material,
The Nov. 30, 2011 news item about the bone scaffolding work on BBC News adds more detail,
Prof Bose’s team have spent four years developing the bone-like substance.
Their breakthrough came when they discovered a way to double the strength of the main ceramic powder – calcium phosphate – by adding silica and zinc oxide.
To create the scaffold shapes they customised a printer which had originally been designed to make three-dimensional metal objects.
It sprayed a plastic binder over the loose powder in layers half as thick as the width of a human hair.
The process was repeated layer by layer until completed, at which point the scaffold was dried, cleaned and then baked for two hours at 1250C (2282F).
Earlier this year I highlighted a story about a trachea transplant where they used scaffolding to grow trachea cells in much the same way the WSU team is using a scaffolding to grow bone cells. Here are the posts about the trachea transplant and scaffolding from the first to the last,