The numerous benefits of 3D printing bones found by researchers are Northwestern University are astounding. We’ve seen medical 3D printing before, but the way these 3D printed bones are being produced is very FFF like in nature. Looking at all the benefits hospitals, doctors, surgeons, and patients could see from 3D printing bones when it’s cleared for use in human patients.
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Medical 3D Printing Bones
We’re going to talk medical 3D printing, specifically 3D printing bones. This is very, very cool technology, that seeing is believing, holy mackerel, this is cool stuff.
The explosion of 3D printing medical is just amazing to me. All the different things that we’ve talked about. When we talked about the BioBot, that was really cool. Thinking about the materials that are going into it and that they were not just re-engineering that machine, but the materials in IT. That’s really what the big advance here in 3D printing bones are. This is a hyper elastic bone. They show it on the video, it’s super cool. It looks flexible, and then they drop stuff on top of it, try to crush it and it doesn’t break.
Let’s make sure we explain a little more about what this material is. It’s printing a bone graft material. It’s almost like a skeletal structure of a bone. Take a bone and then break it up into a mesh, if you will. We all understand meshes in the 3D printing world. It’s a structure in which bone will grow. The bone will actually replace this 3D printed material.
I understand this from my personal experience, gosh, I don’t know 15 years ago, 20 years ago, actually had a bad tooth pulled out of my jaw and it left this big gaping hole in my jaw. Actually, some of the jaw had eroded away because of an infection. The doctor put this bone graft material in there, into my jaw, which basically he’s just putting the stuff in there and sewing up my gums or whatever so that then new bone would regrow in that jaw and replace the bone that have been lost due to infection.
This is a similar thing where in situations where you can’t just put in some bone graft material and close it up and wait for it to grow, you need it to grow in a specific structure, in a specific way, in a specific area. Most often, the way that they do these types of bone grafts that they’re talking about, they call it an autograft. Usually, they take a piece of bone from one part of your body and put it into another part. You could imagine the pain, the surgery, the recovery. You’ve got pain in one area and growing new bone in one area and yet you got something removed out of another area. That just doesn’t sound really wonderful.
The other part about it is that they tend to do this with multiple surgeries, so you have higher risks of infection, multiple surgeries, more pain, longer time period to recover, all of those things happen. But in this case, when you’re talking about medical 3D printing bones, you’ve got into the idea that now you can be x-rayed instantly, have it made and same day be in surgery.
They can use the scanning technology that already really exists in the medical field. They have three-dimensional scans done all the time of bones and things, MRIs and CAT scans and all different kinds of scans. They can take that information then 3D print, on demand, your bone structure in this bone graft material. Then remove whatever portion of bone they need to from your body, replace it with this cage of 3D print. It is created with an FFF process of 3D printing. It’s really like printing flexible material not all that different from NinjaFlex or something. It’s very cool stuff.
3D Printing Bones – A More Natural Alternative
One of the things that they mentioned in the article about it was that the kind of graft you had is actually putting synthetic material in there, synthetic bone graft material. It can be attacked by the bodies, it can be rejected. For some people that can be very significant, especially if you’re trying to grow a larger area of bone that was damaged by cancer or injury or things like that. Having to have that regrow, that rejection rate, and that causes a whole ton of other problems and immune system issues, which you don’t need when you’re already trying to recover like that.
Being able to use a lot more natural materials in the way that they’re making this, which is called hydroxyapatite, which sounds crazy but that’s what they’re using. It already exists in our bones and teeth already. It’s a match to what we already have in our body, and yet it provides strength and chemical cues to the stem cells themselves to create bones. It’s spurring our own body to repair itself, which is fantastic.
There’s so much of that going on with stem cells. Now, using 3D printing as a vehicle to help stem cells grow in the right way and in the right geometric structure, in the right locations, fantastic. We want to shout out here and make sure you all understand who’s done this. This has happened by researchers at Northwestern University in Evanston, Illinois.
They have actually made this hyper elastic bone material. I was talking about a mesh, they call it a scaffold, which is another interesting way to think about it. It’s a structure in which things are going to be built. They’re the ones who’ve really developed this technology. There are other leading medical scientists from around the world who were not involved in the work but actually have looked at it and say, “This is so much simpler and has so many more benefits.”
A guy was quoted, I’m going to butcher his name, but it’s Jos Malda, I believe. It’s from the Netherlands. He’s a bio materials engineer from Utrecht University in the Netherlands. He was involved in the work. He said, this scaffold that they’re creating in Northwestern is simpler to make than others and it has many more benefits.
3D Printing Bones – Global Adoption
This is getting recognized around the world. It’s still in research phases but this is coming to hospitals near you. It is absolutely going to happen. Especially because the technology to print it, we’re not talking about hyper high-end commercial 3D printing technology that the hospitals are going to be having to pay hundreds of thousands of dollars to get this machine and to do it. We’re talking about FFF quality materials.
You’re taking 3D printing in the medical field and you’re taking it out of research and being able to put it into active facility. Right now, it’s only being tested in rats and monkeys, according to the information that I read. They need some more proven success before they’re able to move to human testing.
Once it gets to there, what they’re talking about is that the mixture that they use is exact shapes matched to the bones, the materials are flexible, they evaporate during printing. There’s a whole bunch of binders and other things. But they’re all commonly found in biomedical labs today. This is not radical re-engineering of materials. It’s just a radical reuse of them in a new process and in a new way.
Simpler Process of 3D Printing Bones
The process is incredible. They talk about how current process … You can imagine surgeons needing to replace a shattered or missing bone in a person. Let’s think about it, most of our bones in our body exist twice, on the left side and the right side of your body. If you have a shattered bone, you can scan the good one on the inside your body and then mirror image.
Those of you who’ve been learning your CAD and are getting into it, the mirror function is a very simple thing. You can imagine, probably my right fibula is pretty much the same as my left in structure and size and height. It’s just a mirror image of it. Boom, scan one, mirror image, you have the other, print out your bone graft material in 3D printing and then grow a perfectly good new bone back in place of the one that was shattered. How brilliant is that?
This really just goes to the point that it’s more than 3D printing medical devices today. It’s actually going inside our bodies and other things, but in a non-scary way. These are things that we are doing already. It’s not like we aren’t putting plastics or metals or other things in our bodies already. It’s happening all the time with medical devices.
To do something with this kind of customization and this kind of capability without the exorbitant cost, think of how much better the recovery time, the cost structures. Everything’s going to start coming down. I just love the idea of that.
Future of 3D Printing Bones
I’m thinking of so many more applications for 3D printing bones right now. Think about it. There’s been a huge amount of medical research put into making replacement hip parts, hip bones. I know there also have been some recalls of materials that were used that are foreign to the human body. They’re not just made of bone material, they’re made of different metals and they’re made of different polymers and all sorts of things. They’re attached to trying to fuse them to bone and they’ve had rejection problems and they had recalls.
People have had to go in and have hips they’ve had replaced replaced again. You’re talk about more than one surgery, multiple surgeries and the risk of that. Just going to the hospital, you can get an infection and then have a serious problem. Can you imagine now, maybe the hip replacement would be a little different, but can you imagine printing your hip bone, your socket joint there and having your own stem cells regrow it to be exactly what it needs to be?
Maybe there’d be some recovery time, not being able to bear weight on it until that bone grows back. But once it’s done, it would be a perfect fit for you. It’s customized for you and your body would not reject it and you wouldn’t have it to ever be replaced again. It’d be a once in a lifetime type of surgery.I’m excited for that.
3D Printing Bones – Final Thoughts
I remember when we were doing the BioBot interview with Danny Cabrera and he was talking mostly about it being in a lab setting, for research portions of using the BioBot. The idea that it would move into the surgery room or into pre-op or whatever and be right there for you, I think this is just the future. It’s just incredible as to what this can really do for us.
What was it in the movie? I think the Fifth Element. Remember, where the, I forget, the supreme being, played by this woman who was the supreme being, who would come back to earth to save the earth or whatever. Their ship coming on approach to earth got completely blown up and the supreme being had died.
There’s this great animation sequence in that movie where they take one part of this person’s body, their hand I think that was saved from their crash wreckage, analyze the DNA. They had one hell of an animation sequence of a really futuristic 3D printer that not only was reconstructing this entire being’s body, bone structure, muscle structure, everything, but because of the DNA.
Somehow they reconstructed and really reincarnated her and sorts. Some of this is obviously sci-fi and is not going to happen. I don’t think you could rebuild someone’s brain and have their memories be intact but from a bone and muscle structure
Another way to look at it though is to think that they could. Walter O’Brien might think you could. You can download someone’s thoughts into a drive and then re-upload it to a new brain. Thoughts are things. I think that that’s actually what they are saying, is that the ability for this medical 3D printing and all of these advances and these kinds of things that are coming up and are going to make us live much, much, much longer. If not, in a sense, our brains live forever in some virtual way. It could be cool.
Some of that definitely seems a bit far out in the future. The whole bone aspect and certainly from what we learned from BioBots with 3D printing and ways to 3D print tissue and to grow tissue starting with a 3D print. That’s really what this bone graft scaffolding does. This is super cool stuff.
The video, you definitely want to play the video about this because not only about 3D printing of the scaffolding and see how flexible that material is, but also to have some time lapse video portion of the bone actually growing. It’s like they took scans periodically and they can show how the bone progresses to grow and replace the scaffold, that was fascinating. That was really cool, absolutely. Wow, definitely this was a fun one on medical 3D printing bones.
- Promising Biomaterial to Build Better Bones with 3-D Printing
- Bio 3D Printing is in the Lab with Danny Cabrera of BioBots
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