Medical Innovation: 3-D Printing of Bone Material

Image Credit: Northwestern Medicine 

“Wellbeing is about the combination of our love for what we do each day, the quality of our relationships, the security of our finances, the vibrancy of our physical health, and the pride we take in what we have contributed to our communities. Most importantly, it’s about how these five elements interact.”– Tom Rath

Article Authors: Gordon Slater| Tandose Sambo 

Life becomes interesting when the things that we are aware of for everyday life, transition to applications that are life changing. In the medical realm, 3-D printing is emerging as a tool that helps to save lives daily. Initial applications of 3-D printing were initially more for civilian and industrial applications. Enthusiasts have used 3D printing to do things like print mugs, and experts have used 3-D printing to design the next generation of houses to be built on Mars. 

Similar principles apply across all disciplines, and 3-D printing is one of those applications that has Universal appeal. 

The Problem

Millions of patients undergo bone reconstruction surgeries each year. The root causes of why patients have to undergo surgery are variable. Some patients may have to rectify bone damage incurred during trauma such as a fracture. Others may have to salvage their bone structure because of conditions such as cancer. In acute cases, wear and tear induced by lifestyles such as those of athletes can cause body parts to degenerate and have to be repaired and replaced. 

Reconstructive surgeries often incorporate the utilization of harvested bone in order to facilitate repair. Harvested bone may either be salvaged from the person’s own body, or from an external source. The odds of the body having adverse reactions to harvested implants varies across the patient pool. Alternative treatments include the utilization of titanium plates to reinforce the body’s frame.

The Solution 

The advent of 3-D printing has enabled innovative ideas to be brought to the medical world. It is now possible to reconstruct parts of a patient’s anatomy with materials that match the physical properties of bone. Diagnostic tools are utilized to map the internal conditions of the body, and 3-D printing is used to create the implant. The implant is a perfect match for the patient’s body. 

Medical implants are being developed, and brought to market, that have the ability to integrate into the existing bone. Bone reconstruction surgery patients have the ability to resume normal function. Material science has enabled the composition of the materials to be such that they can resorb into the body, and eventually become part of the living bone structure. 

The Future: What does this mean for patients? 

As medical science advances, it is comforting to know that there are methods being developed that enable the enhancement of natural healing. Bone implants can be customized to patients needs, and be integrated with the appropriate medical treatments. Biologic additives can be integrated into the structure of the 3-D printed bone. These additives include: 

Growth Factors: These are special proteins that will catalyse healing mechanisms in the body, as the new bone is forming and healing. 

Antibiotics: Surgical procedures are often utilised in order to install the implants. With the incisions and exposure of the bone to external elements, it is possible for infections to develop post surgery. With antibiotics embedded in the implant, patient health can be optimized. 

Chemotherapy: Another custom additive that can be incorporated into the implant according to the patient’s diagnosis.  

Engineering methodology can ensure that the bone additives are released at a set time.  


An innovative application of a previously mundane activity can make all the difference to people’s lives. 3-D printing has evolved from being an industrial manufacturing based tool, to one that is used to advance medical research. We can trust that if anything were to go wrong with our bone system, a suitable bone match can be generated that will integrate with our bodies. 


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Dr. Gordon Slater

Dr. Slater is one of the first foot and ankle surgeons in Australia to adopt minimally invasive surgical techniques. He routinely uses MIS to treat a range of conditions, including bunions.

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Dr Gordon Slater is a highly-skilled surgeon specialising in foot and ankle conditions and sports injuries. Dr Slater is one of the first foot and ankle surgeons in Australia to adopt minimally invasive surgical techniques. He routinely uses MIS to treat a range of conditions, including bunions. MIS  has many advantages including shorter operating times, reduced post-operative pain, reduced risk of infection, minimal scarring and better cosmetic outcomes.

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