3D Printing Technology Converts CT Scans of Facial Bones into Template for New Bone Formation

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Researchers at Johns Hopkins University are using 3D printing technology to convert CT scans of facial bones into templates for new bone formation, a press release published during the 2014 Annual Meeting of the Orthopaedic Research Society.   

The typical procedure to repair an individual’s appearance after injury or damage to the bones in their face is to use a large bone graft or even a metal implant to replace the damaged bone. An individual’s appearance can be altered significantly by changes to the facial bone structure due to injury, but new technology in 3D printers has allowed for this new medical innovation to closely retain the original bone structure.

"We're focused on developing better technologies for bone regeneration," said Josh Temple of the Grayson Laboratory for Craniofacial & Orthopaedic Tissue Engineering at Johns Hopkins University, in the announcement.  He and his colleagues have been working closely with plastic and reconstructive surgeons with the hope that applying a tissue-engineering approach to damaged facial bones will result in bone grafts that more closely mimic the shape of the original bones.  

"Our custom 3D printer," Temple explained, "allows us to convert a CT scan of the bone of interest into a porous, biodegradable scaffold that serves as a template for new bone formation."  He further described the next steps in the process: "We fill the pores of the scaffold with fat-derived stem cells and demonstrate that these cells can form new bone as well as blood vessel networks, both of which are critical for functional bone grafts." 

The next step for this team is to work on enhancing the scaffold's potential to induce bone to form. The goal is to develop a treatment option that would allow patients to retain more of their original appearance.