Scientists from UNSW Sydney have developed a ceramic-based ink that may allow surgeons in the future to 3D-print bone parts complete with living cells that could be used to repair damaged bone tissue.
Using a 3D-printer that deploys a special ink made up of calcium phosphate, the scientists developed a new technique, known as ceramic omnidirectional bioprinting in cell-suspensions (COBICS), enabling them to print bone-like structures that harden in a matter of minutes when placed in water.
While the idea of 3D-printing bone-mimicking structures is not new, this is the first time such material can be created at room temperature – complete with living cells – and without harsh chemicals or radiation, says Dr Iman Roohani from UNSW's School of Chemistry.
"This is a unique technology that can produce structures that closely mimic bone tissue," he said, pointing to repairs of bone defects caused by accidents or cancer.
Associate Professor Kristopher Kilian who co-developed the breakthrough technology with Dr Roohani says the fact that living cells can be part of the 3D-printed structure, together with its portability, make it a big advance on current state-of-the-art technology.
Up until now, he says, making a piece of bone-like material to repair bone tissue of a patient involves first going into a laboratory to fabricate the structures using high-temperature furnaces and toxic chemicals.