3D printers may become standard equipment for operating rooms

Scientists from UNSW Sydney have developed a new ceramic-based ink that could allow surgeons to 3D print bone parts complete with living cells. The 3D printing bone could be used to repair damaged bone tissue during surgery. The 3D printer uses a special ink made of calcium phosphate, and researchers on the project call the ink ceramic omnidirectional bio printing in cell-suspensions or COBICS.

Using the COBICS ink, bone-like structures that harden in minutes when placed in water can be created. 3D printing materials that are similar to bone isn't a new idea. Still, the new research marks the first time the material can be made at room temperature, complete with living cells and without harsh chemicals or radiation. Researchers believe the material could be used in clinical applications where there is a large demand for in situ repair of bone defects caused by trauma, cancer, or missing tissue resulting from resection.

Combine the new ink technology with the fact that living cells can be part of the 3D printed structure. The system's portability and researchers say it's an advance compared to current technology. Prior to this invention, if bone-like material was needed to repair bone tissue for a particular patient, medical staff had to go into a laboratory to fabricate structures using a high-temperature furnace and toxic chemicals.

After producing material in the laboratory, it was taken into the clinical setting where it had to be washed profusely, and then living cells were added to it. The new technique extrudes the material directly where there are living cells, like a cavity in the patient's bone. The structure is printed already containing living cells right in that area.

The ink takes advantage of a setting mechanism via the local nanocrystallization of its components in an aqueous environment that converts inorganic ink to mechanically interlocked bone apatite nanocrystals. That means it's chemically similar to bone-building blocks.