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3-D printers may soon fix broken bones

3-D printers are moving from the whimsical fringe of printing out chocolates, cheeseburgers and bikinis to serious life-saving stuff such as rescue robots and, now, a bone-like material scaffold that can help heal real broken bones.

This latest use comes from researchers at Washington State University. They used a commercially available 3-D printer designed to make metal objects and optimized it so it can spray a bone-like ceramic powder into whatever 3-D shape designers draw on a computer. 

New findings on the technology are reported in the journal Dental Materials where the team describes how the addition of zinc and silicon to the mixture more than doubled the strength of the main material, calcium phosphate.

"It can make bone scaffold using the material that you want very similar to human bone and it can fix the defect that the physician wants," Susmita Bose, a professor of mechanical and materials engineering at the university, explains in the video above.

In lab tests, after just a week in a medium with immature human bone cells, the scaffold supported a network of new bone cells.

And, the researchers are seeing promising results with in vitro tests on rats and rabbits, they report.

Susmita and colleagues aim to insert these scaffolds into human bodies to repair broken bones. As the bone-like material dissolves, real bone tissue in the body will grow over it.

Within 10 to 20 years, Susmita notes in the video, physicians and surgeons could be able to use these bone scaffolds, together with chemicals that help bones grow, to fix jawbones and fuse spines.

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John Roach is a contributing writer for To learn more about him, check out his website. For more of our Future of Technology series, watch the featured video below.