Printing bone matter closer to reality with 3D printers

Cartilage success brings new bones a step nearer.

Around the world, more than two million medical procedures a year require a bone graft, but only two methods exist: autografts and allografts. Autografts involve taking bone from one part of the body and implanting it another part of the same person. Allografts involve using bone matter from a donor. Both procedures are extremely painful and can cause serious complications for the donor as well as the recipient.

Researchers at the Advanced Materials and Bioengineering Research Centre (AMBER) of Trinity College, Dublin, have pioneered a new technique that lets them create cartilage implants using 3D printers. The implants are made from stem cells and other biomaterials.

Although the printers can’t yet make bones directly, the cartilage implants bring researchers one step closer to that goal. Professor Daniel Kelly, one of the researchers, explained to Digital Trends that “bioprinting vascularised solid organs such as bone directly is not possible using existing printing technology”. However, Professor Kelly said his team was able to print cartilage in the shape of an adult bone, which would then “develop into functional bone organs following implantation into the body”.

This new use for 3D printing could remove the need for bone-graft donors, and the accompanying difficulties, by enabling doctors to print implants in larger and more complex shapes.