When you shatter your kneecap, the surgeon may use an implanted scaffold to coax your bones to knit back together properly. But what happens to the scaffold once you're healed? With this new system, the scaffold just melts away.

A team at Washington State University is leading the research. They've re-purposed a ProMetal 3D printer—normally used for printing metal items—to spray plastic binder over ceramic powder in 20-micron-thick layers to create the scaffold itself. Ceramic—calcium phosphate—is often used in bone replacement surgeries (joint replacements, crowns, etc) but with the addition of silica and zinc oxide, its structural strength doubles.

Once the scaffold is complete, it is covered in bone growth factors and implanted in the patient. Over time, bone colonizes the scaffolding, growing as the implant dictates. Eventually, the scaffold will dissolve in the body, with no "apparent ill effects," according to the researcher team, leaving just the healthy new bone. And since each scaffold is specially printed for individual patients, "if a doctor has a CT scan of a defect, we can convert it to a CAD file and make the scaffold according to the defect," said Susmita Bose, co-author of the WSU study.

Just think, no more gold crowns for broken teeth—you'll simply get an implant and grow your old tooth back. It could also be used to deliver medication to osteoporosis patients as it dissolves or—at the very least—allow me to grow a wicked set of Legend horns. Since the treatment uses equipment that is available and affordable right now, we'll only have to wait a few years for it to become available to doctors. [Gizmag via UberGizmo]


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