Desktop 3-D printers can already pump out a toy trinket, gear set or even parts to make another printer. Medical researchers are also taking advantage of this accelerating technology to expand their options for regenerative medicine. Brian Derby, of the School of Materials at the University of Manchester in England, details the advances and challenges of this growing field in a new review paper published online November 15 in Science.
Researchers have made great strides in coaxing cells to grow over artificial, porous scaffolds that can then be implanted in the body to replace hard tissue, such as bone. Three years ago, doctors were able to coax stem cells to grow over bone scaffolds, which regenerated bone to implant into the face of a teenage boy, who had a genetic defect that left him without cheekbones.
But now, instead of relying on poured molds, foam designs or donated biological materials, researchers can print custom scaffold structures with biocompatible, biodegradable polymers. “These methods have allowed us to develop very complex scaffolds which better mimic the conditions inside the body,” Derby said in a prepared statement.