A graduate student from Tomsk Polytechnic University has developed a novel method for 3D printing a calcium phosphate compound biomaterial that is nearly identical to human bone tissue, and could provide a significantly cheaper alternative to traditional bone prostheses or regenerative medicine options. Compatible with FDM 3D printing technology, the 3D printed artificial bone material is biocompatible and biodegradable, extremely strong yet porous, and could enter the medical market within the next three years.
Graduate student of TPU and developer of this new 3D bone printing method, Nikita Toropka has recently been named the winner of a prestigious national nanotechnology engineering competition, and his work in 3D printed artificial bones has already attracted the attention of Rusnano Corporation, a state policy that supports the development of the nanoindustry inside Russia.
The two main elements of human bones are calcium and phosphorus—in fact, seventy percent of our bones consists of a calcium phosphate mineral. Thus, in order for artificial bone grafts or bone prostheses to be accepted into the body, they must contain calcium phosphate compounds. This is not a new concept, not even within the realm of 3D bioprinting and 3D biomaterials. Toropka’s innovation, however, is not so much in the use of calcium phosphate compounds as it is in his method of 3D printing them.
Previous attempts at 3D printing artificial bones have relied on SLS 3D printing technology. While the main advantage of Selective Laser Sintering is that allows for precise and porous objects to be 3D printed, the downside is that the strength of these 3D printed objects is nowhere near that of natural human bones.
By developing a calcium phosphate composite material capable being extruded, Toropkov has instead managed to use FDM/FFF 3D printers to create 3D printed artificial bones with near identity density and strength to human bone tissue.
“The idea of using calcium phosphate compounds is not new for the scientific community. But there was a serious problem: with traditional method of calcium phosphate powder laser sintering it was impossible to get a dense material. That’s why presently this compound is used as a coating on titanium implants to improve their survival in the body. It goes without saying, that such a great material was forgotten. We decided to take advantage of additive technology, simply defined as 3D printing,” said Toropkov.
This method allows for a number of attractive features within the 3D printable biomaterial. As mentioned above, the 3D printed bones are sufficiently strong, yet maintain a porous structure that facilitates ‘osseointegration’—that is, the ability for natural bone to grow throughout the implant. The 3D printed biomaterial is also biocompatible and biodegradable, meaning that it will not be rejected, and once its job is complete, it can fully disintegrate into the body leaving no trace behind.
Another major advantage of 3D printed artificial bones is their affordability. According to preliminary estimates, Toropkov believes that the cost of a 3D printed prosthetic human jaw would cost roughly 50 thousand rubles (US $650)—that’s roughly four times cheaper than existing prosthetics.
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