Monday, 09 Mar, 2009 Technology
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Latest Invention: 3D Printer to Replicate Human Bones

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With the help of their latest invention in science - a 3D printer, researchers managed to create the exact copy of a man's thumb bones. The device can now be used to help surgeons restore damaged bones by creating their precise copies, which are made from the patient's cells.

According to Christian Weinand of the Insel Hospital in Berne, Switzerland, who leads the team of scientists that replicated his thumb bone, theoretically it is possible to copy any bone. The scientist "grew" his substitute bones on the backs of laboratory mice. However, it is not always necessary to use a surrogate mouse. This is the case when a person, who lost a thumb, is able to replace it with his or her own toe. Currently surgeons are able to replace a thumb with the patient's toe or by using bone fragments.

The new method implies a number of steps. Initially it is important to have a 3D image of the bone that is going to be copied. In case the bone has been damaged, one can create a mirror image of the bone's intact twin. Afterwards the picture of the bone is inserted into a 3D inject printer that puts thin layers of a material (selected beforehand) on top of one another till the 3D object shows up.

The researcher filled their latest invention with tricalcium phosphate along with a type of polylactic acid. These are natural materials that persist in human body, informs NewScientist.

After successfully replicating a bone, the copy itself features small pores on its "scaffolds". This is where bone cells can eventually settle, grow and then completely displace the biodegradable scaffold. Scientists removed CD117 cells from bone marrow that remained after hip-replacement surgical operations. These cells develop into primordial bone cells, also known as osteoblasts. The latter were syringed on top of the bone scaffolds in a gel that was created to nourish the CD117 cells as well as support them. In the final step, scientists sew scaffolds under the skin on the backs of laboratory mice. After 15 weeks the scaffold had turned into human bone.

"The nice aspect of this new work is that a method was used to make sure the bones grew to the exact dimensions of a particular thumb. The next stage will be to demonstrate that such implants are functional and that they acquire blood vessels when implanted," said Anthony Hollander, a stem cell scientist at the University of Bristol, UK.

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