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PostPosted: 16 Oct 2016 22:47 
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3D printers in medicine are very much in the news today. In orthopaedic practice we often come across cases where a segment of the bone is missing as in open fractures or a portion of bone is removed because of some pathology. In all these cases the missing segment is replaced by a bone graft obtained from a different area of the body or from donor graft. The graft that is used does not replace the missing bone permanently. They are not living bone and are used only as a temporary framework (a scaffold) on which the body's stem cells can start laying new blood vessels and bone cells to form healthy living bone effecting the repair.

Obtaining bone graft can some times be difficult, particularly when large segments need replacing. Getting graft from a different part of the body can also be painful and can expose this new site to infection. Now the scientists are coming up with a new method to produce a graft that can be designed to fit the area where the bone is missing or where a graft is needed.

Scientists at North-western University, Illinois using a 3D printer have built the substance out of hydroxyapatite, a calcium based mineral that is the main component of the bony framework, adding in a small amount of polymers. The resulting scaffolds that can be printed to order are very elastic and mimic the bone structure on a microscopic level. The body's stem cells can then lay down new blood vessels and bone cells on this framework. Once a strong new bone is formed, the artificial scaffold will be broken down by the surrounding cells. They have tested the method very successfully by using this 3D graft to repair spines of mice and rats and a hole in a monkey's skull.

The artificial bone, they say, can be printed cheaply on a large scale at room temperatures and stored for at least a year. The most expensive element in the whole picture at the moment is the printer itself that can cost about £200,000.


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