Scientists have developed a new artificial bone that can be designed and produced with a 3D printer. Now, experts are saying that it could be the next major breakthrough in reconstructive surgery.
The new material, called hyperelastic bone, is made out of hydroxyapatite and a biodegradable polymer. With this material and a 3D printer, surgeons can repair or even regenerate broken bones and heal other injuries.
Hydroxyapatite is a naturally occurring mineral and essential ingredient in human bones, so when used to rebuild a bone, it blends well with the body’s tissue and can facilitate new cell growth.
Unfortunately, hydroxyapatite is brittle and stiff on its own, which makes the material challenging to work with. Researcher Ramille Shah and her team from Northwestern University found a solution, however, when they combined it with a biodegradable polymer, creating the hyperelastic bone material.
To test the material, the researchers 3D printed scaffolds out of the hyperelastic bone material and placed stem cells in the scaffolds. They discovered that the cells grew quickly on the scaffolds and actually transformed into bone cells.
“Cells can sense the hydroxyapatite and respond to its bioactivity,” said Shah. “When you put stem cells on our scaffolds, they turn into bone cells and start to up-regulate their expression of bone specific genes. This is in the absence of any other osteo-inducing substances. It’s just the interaction between the cells and the material itself.”
The researchers explained that because the material is so malleable and easy to shape, it can be used for individualized or tailor-made bone implants.
Roughly 25,000 Americans experience an ankle sprain each day, and approximately 6 million people in the U.S. break a bone each year. Although most of these injuries heal easily, as many as 300,000 are slow to heal or do not respond to traditional methods at all. In fact, a typical bone fracture heals in two to 10 weeks. The new hyperelastic bone material may be the solution doctors have been waiting for.