Knee Bone's Connected to the… Ink-jet Printer

 Jake Barralet: Ink-jet printers make for better bone grafts
Jake Barralet: Ink-jet printers make for better bone grafts

Bone grafts force doctors to rely on ceramics, or harvesting bone from other parts of the patient’s body. But one day all they might have to do is fire up their ink-jet printers.

A McGill dentistry professor has developed a technique to use the common office technology to create three-dimensional bio-ceramic bones.

“We’re a long way from seeing this method used in a hospital setting, but it’s an important first step toward a revolutionary change in bone-grafting technology,” says Jake Barralet, the Canada Research Chair in Osteoinductive Biomaterials. Barralet, working with researchers from Université Laval and the University of Würzburg in Germany, has taken advantage of the ink-jet printer’s ability to print layer upon layer.

“It’s similar to a CT scan, in that the image is created one layer at a time. The result is three-dimensional,” says Barralet. “Rather than printing on paper, we’re printing on a bed of cement powder using an acid instead of ink, which reacts with the cement to print whatever pattern we want.”

These artificial bone sections, composed mostly of calcium phosphate, can be precisely constructed to include holes that will guide the growth patterns of new bone—effectively acting as biodegradable scaffolds for regrowing bones. The new process may eventually be used in reconstructive surgery or other types of bone repair, and could prove much more effective and less risky than harvesting bone from elsewhere in the body.

This research is funded by the Québec Ministère des Relations Internationales’ Québec-Bavaria Exchange Program.