A 3D printer has been used to create a bone-like material which researchers say can be used in orthopedic procedures.
Washington State University researchers created the material which can be paired with real bone to acts as a scaffold for new bone to grow on, later on dissolving.
Successful in vitro tests have already been conducted, as well as live tests on rats and rabbits, the engineers wrote in journal Dental Materials.
Doctors may be able to custom order replacement bone tissue in a few years, said Susmita Bose, co-author and professor in 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,” she said.
The addition of silicon and zinc more than doubled the strength of the main material, calcium phosphate, the researchers found.
The team, which included mechanical and materials engineering Professor Amit Bandyopadhyay, doctoral student Gary Fielding and research assistant Solaiman Tarafder, also spent a year optimising a commercially available ProMetal 3D printer designed to make metal objects.
The printer's inkjet sprays 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 channeled cylinder the size of a pencil eraser.
After just a week in a medium with immature human bone cells, the engineers said the scaffold was supporting a network of new bone cells.