Hossein Montazerian, research assistant with UBC Okanagan’s School of Engineering, demonstrates the artificial bone design that can be made with a 3D printer. (Credit: University of British Columbia)

A new artificial bone design can be customized and made with a 3D printer for stronger, safer, and more effective bone replacements.

A researcher has identified a way to model and create artificial bone grafts that can be custom printed. Traditional bone grafting is used in medicine to treat anything from traumatic fractures to defects, and requires moving bone from one part of the body to another. But these artificial bone grafts could be custom printed to potentially fit any patient and wouldn’t require transplanting existing bone fragments.

Research focused on bone graft designs that were both porous and strong. The best designs were up to 10 times stronger than the others, and since they have properties that are much more similar to natural bone, they were less likely to cause problems over the long term.

The researchers are working on the next generation of designs that will use a mix of two or more structures. They hope to produce bone grafts that will be ultra-porous, where the bone and connective tissues meet and are extra-strong at the points under the most stress. The ultimate goal is to produce a replacement that almost perfectly mimics real bone.

The technology still needs some advances before it can be used clinically. For example, other researchers are refining biomaterials that won’t be rejected by the body and that can be printed with the very fine 3D details that his designs require.