Researchers have developed a technique with which bone implants that are precisely fitting, stable, and variable in dimensions can be 3D printed from a special plastic. In the printing process, individual layers are treated with a cold plasma in order to improve the bonding of bone-forming cells.

Plasma-jet coating of medical implant scaffolds. (Credit: Fraunhofer IST, Falko Oldenburg)

The new method makes it possible to apply a cell-growth-promoting coating to the interior of the implants. The device blows a cold jet of plasma containing reactive groups directly onto the printed layers. The amino groups bond with the surface and ensure that bone cells find a convenient substrate to which they readily adhere. The 3D printing and coating processes are combined in one device.

The scaffold around which the implant is built is made from a special copolymer that is modeled on the natural bone. The mechanical stability of the implant can be controlled not only via the density of the printed scaffold structure, but also via special fillers that are added to the copolymer. Active drug ingredients can be incorporated in the filler to reduce the risk of infection.

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