The authors say they are already seeing promising results with in vivo tests on rats and rabbits. It is possible that doctors will be able to custom order replacement bone tissue in a few years, says Professor Susmita Bose of WSU's School of Mechanical and Materials Engineering.
"If a doctor has a CT scan of a defect, we can convert it to a CAD file and make the scaffold according to the defect," Bose says.
The material grows out of a four-year interdisciplinary effort involving chemistry, materials science, biology and manufacturing. A main finding of the paper is that the addition of silicon and zinc more than doubled the strength of the main material, calcium phosphate. The researchers also spent a year optimising a commercially available ProMetal 3D printer designed to make metal objects.
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 channelled 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.
MEDICA.de; Source: Washington State University