Plastic mockups, prototypes and other relatively simple items are what’s often thought of when considering 3D printing. This vision is at least partially incorrect, as 3D printed items also have more precise applications: at the International Space Station and in medicine. The latter is where we can see the greatest progress brought about by 3D printing. Among the 3D-printed elements you can find hyperelastic bones which revolutionize medicine as we know it.
Injuries in which reconstruction or substitution are needed are treated traditionally by taking some bone tissue and placing it in another part of the patient’s body. The procedure is both very painful and very difficult. Processing of bone, due to its physical properties, is complex and time consuming, and as a result it’s impossible to modify the implanted bone during the surgery. Rebuilding bone can also be done with implants based on bone tissue from a deceased person, but solutions like these are prohibitively expensive.
The breakthrough happened as a result of a discovery made by the team under the direction of Ramille Shah at the Northwestern University, USA. The team invented a material which could be used in 3D printers for 3d printing elements or even entire bones.
The material is both durable and highly flexible. Once the 3d printed implants are placed in the required spot blood flow commences very quickly and the body turns them into bone. The method can be used for treating various injuries, even to rebuild a destroyed fragment of a skull.
Implants Made to Measure
The hyperelastic bone—this is what the material was called—is made of hydroxyapatite. The mineral is found naturally in bone. In order to ensure elasticity of the implant hydroxyapatite was merged with a polymer binder: PLGA. As a result the implant is so good at pretending it’s natural bone that the body sees it as an incomplete bone which has to be rebuilt and it starts the process of filling the gaps.
Scientists have experimented on animals. They’ve managed to reconstruct the spine of a rat and a missing part of the skull of a macaque monkey. The implant turned out to be too large, but the doctors were able to adjust its size easily as the surgery was progressing.
The hyperelastic bone is 3D printed with the use of a 3D printer, which means that the implants can be tailored to each specific patient based on scans. The material’s properties allow for additional adjustments during the surgery. In 24 hours a personalized implant can be created which will be a perfect fit and will be immediately accepted by the organism.
Use of 3D Printers in Medicine
Scientists at the Northwestern University say that the technology they invented will be found in hospitals within five years at most. Thanks to the hyperelastic bone every hospital will be able to use 3D printers such as the Zortrax M200 or M300 to create personalized prostheses. The process will be both less expensive and less painful for the patients.
Soon 3D printers will become essential equipment for virtually every hospital. They will make it possible to use new materials and achieve results which recently seemed impossible. Every Zortrax 3D printer is already well suited for medical applications thanks to their high precision and the possibility of sterilizing elements of the device.
We live in interesting times: we may witness a breakthrough in medicine. We are witnessing how 3D printers are being transformed from a novelty used by few to an indispensable, life-saving element of hospital equipment. Hyperelastic 3D printed bone is just the first step towards a medical revolution brought about by 3D printers. As time progresses, new materials will be introduced, whose applications are now beyond our wildest dreams.