3D printing can help heal broken bones, and maybe new organs


OSU Research Matters is a bi-weekly look at the work of Oklahoma State University faculty, staff, and students.

The uses of 3D printing are countless, but can they be used to improve the world of health? In this episode, Dr. Kenneth Sewell talks with Dr. James Smay, a professor in OSU’s College of Engineering, Architecture, and Technology (CEAT). They discuss how 3D printing can be used to repair broken bones and the possibility of it being used for organ transplants in the future.


SMAY: So if you’ve broken a bone and you’re lucky – you just cracked the bone and the doctor will put the ends back together, put a cast on you, and your body will naturally heal that crack over time by a process of dissolving bone mineral and then redepositing bone mineral to reform that natural bone.

However, if you are missing a large enough segment of bone, what we call a critical size defect. We need to give bone cells something to work on to close this big gap. And so there are a few options. You can remove a piece of bone from your hip which I think they call it the iliac crest which now requires a second surgery and a lot of pain. This is called an autograft. You can take a piece of bone from a pig or a human corpse and use it for scaffolding, or you can create a synthetic scaffold on which the bones can do their job trying to repair the broken bone. bone.

SEWELL: And you do that with a 3D printer.

SMAY: With a 3D printer — yes. So, as I mentioned, we extrude this type of pasty ink that we make from the ceramic particles by mixing them with water and other processing aids and polymers. And this ink can be extruded into filaments with a diameter of 200 micrometers or 0.2 millimeters.

We can print them in a grid structure. Looks a bit like a three-dimensional lattice structure. And the advantage of this is that the size of the filaments and the size of the pores and this network work is very much in proportion to what the bone cells like. This gives them a happy environment to be able to move very quickly along the scaffold and lay down natural bone and since the scaffold is made of calcium phosphate they can etch that scaffold over time and replace it by natural bone.

SEWELL: Where do you see that in the future?

SMAY: We live in an unprecedented time of modern medicine and the miracles we can perform. And I think one of the directions is 3D printing synthetic materials as well as seeding the synthetic materials with cells to trick nature into growing organs and effectively replacing body parts. In my particular field where I’m trying to heal bone fractures that would otherwise be considered intractable, 3D printing can enable some technologies there. So I think that’s the direction in which things are going. We can now design the microenvironment by 3D printing and, in collaboration with chemists and biologists, we can grow cells in structured scaffolds for new applications. So maybe you can eventually 3D print a pancreas or a liver, and make some of those replacement organs. So we would not have to limit ourselves to waiting for a donor to become available.

SEWELL: This is Kenneth Sewell for OSU Research Matters.

Dr. Sewell and Dr. Smay will talk more in-depth about 3D printing at “Research On Tap” – Monday, April 18 at the Iron Monk Brewery in Stillwater. The informal discussion is open to the public and begins at 5:30 p.m.


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