3D Printed Bones

Imagine you are watching season 3, episode 6 of the good doctor: a man devastated his leg in an accident, and he may never walk again. The doctors scramble for solutions when Dr.Claire Browne suggests 3D printing the man a new femur. The first question on your mind is probably: is this truly possible or just a bid to make the show more exciting?
As it turns out, it is very much possible. The process of 3D printing bones is currently in the works and shows promising results. The primary purpose of such bones is to provide artificial repair in case of extreme bone damage resulting in the loss of the bone’s self-healing function. The typical treatment for such bone damage is to extract a piece of bone from other parts of the patient’s body and transplant them to the damaged area. However, such a procedure has multiple limitations and possible complications after transplantation. Hence, 3D bones are proving to be an effective alternative.

A bone is a highly organized composite material; to replicate such composition, multiple different materials are used. These materials include inorganic biomaterials like titanium, calcium, and phosphorus and synthetic polymer materials like polylactic acid (PLA). In addition to replicating the composition, it is also essential to understand how the materials will react in the body's internal environment. As time passes, the degradable materials within the artificial bone may be affected by the body fluid leading to corrosion. Hence, another major factor in selecting materials is ensuring the corrosion products are not harmful to the body and can be absorbed or excreted. Moreover, 3D printing technologies are also essential to the process since replicating the structural formula of the bone is just as necessary to prevent stress rejection. These materials, combined with 3D printing technologies, can build a bone implant that can stimulate the performance of the natural bone.
This technology can be used to replace damaged bone, as shown in the show but not to the extent of printing a whole femur, and address bone defects, especially in children. Bone implantation surgery is extremely painful for children and largely inefficient since inserting a permanent bone implant can result in future surgeries as the child grows. 3D printing bones, however, are customized to the patient and can induce bone regeneration. The possible applications of 3D printing bones make it a promising field of research.