Building bones

As new technologies continue to evolve, 3D printing bones have become a reality. Bio-engineers are developing degradable bones that, once placed in a human body, will eventually be replaced by a person’s own growing bone tissue. We go inside the lab of the Syracuse Biomaterials Institute to learn more.


As new technologies continue to evolve, 3D printing bones has become a reality.

Bioengineers are developing degradable bones that, once placed in a human body, will eventually be replaced by a person's own growing bone tissue.

In this segment, we go inside the lab of the Syracuse Biomaterials Institute to learn more.

We're using technology, so bioengineering technology combined with cell biology, to essentially create a patient-specific bone replacement.

We are making a patient-specific bone, which can slowly integrate and become patient bone itself.


It's something external that's put into the body, but eventually, unlike a piece of metal, it becomes the person.

Yes. Yes, exactly.


And this material that we're using to build these is made out of a material that's used commonly.

You may have had -- if you ever had absorbable stitches, same material is being used there, approved by the FDA in that application.

And we're using the same sort of material, which again, degrades over time, and, um, we can tune that to the rate of degradation to the rate of replacement of the bone that we're trying to grow.

So, as -- as we're building new bone, we're wearing away the support structure that used to be there.

And to -- and to sort of add to this, I mean, since we can use 3D printing approach to basically print a bone of an athlete, or a bone of a small kid, um, exactly be based on, sort of, the CT scan or images from that -- that patient, right, which is not -- which can't be really done with approaches right now.


And that's an important point on the rehabilitation end, because the structure that you place in there plays an important part on how the forces are transduced through the bone and through the tissue.

And so, from the aspect of rehabilitation, not having to retrain your nerves and muscles to operate that -- that part of the anatomy, um, will get you back up and moving even faster.

A new heart of a new kidney is one thing, but to have to have the structural strength, in addition, to keep it living, is something that's --

The bone is -- as they say, bone is hard, both literally and metaphorically.

And so, really unique aspects of this project are that we're able to combine the hard and the soft parts, put them together in a way where we're able to support the mechanical loads that our -- that our skeleton is able to -- to support, but then also make it a biologically living tissue.

And so, those two -- two pieces have been really hard out in the field to put those two aspects together.

And so, we're really lucky in this collaboration to have both the people and the skills to do so.


I make use of the inert stuff, uh, in combination with the non-inert stuff.

And if you think about the bone, it is partly-inorganic and partly-organic.

So, the inorganic part is made with my approach, and I integrate that with the organic part, which is made by Dr. Horton's approach.

My part in there is -- is to bring the cells into it, so we are able to isolate these, uh, skeletal stem cells from a patient's own bone marrow, by putting these cells into the walls, that we can cause them to produce new bone, and that new bone then becomes integrated and is -- makes for the replacement tissue that we're trying to, uh, replace the injured tissue.

This area that we're in right now, is the Cell Culture Facility at Syracuse University, where we actually take the 3D printed constructs from Dr. Soman's lab, and put the cells from Dr. Horton's lab around our 3D printed pipes.

So, we have our pipes and our frames.

And so, basically what happens is, is we put the pipe, uh, our frame, and we cast our, uh, cells around them, uh, and eventually, the pipe will dissolve out, giving us the -- the vasculature within the construct.

See, our 3D printed hard construct, and in the center of our 3D printed hard construct, we have our gel containing our cells.

Now, that one pipe in the very center, that is actually, uh, bone that's been formed in the center of our construct via the profusion of nutrients from this syringe.


People be worried about sort of, some kind of Frankenstein element?

Are you making stuff that's going to make me different?

Dr. Frankenstein, right, when he tried to put someone together, he -- what he was able to do, is he went to the grave, and tried to collect parts of various people, and tried to stitch them together.

What we are doing is not that, right?

We are trying to take your own cells, and your own geometry, and create a new you, for you.

This is like, the most fun I've ever had in the last four, five years, because it's -- it sort of houses faculties of various expertise in one place.

It's sort of an open lab, uh, uh, culture where my group can, sort of, my group of Ph.D students can interact with other groups, and they sort of share the same sort of area and space, and it has all the equipment which I would need, essentially, to build a project like this.

Is it fair -- can we say, absolutely nobody else is doing it, beside you guys?

We're the only ones doing this combined additive and subtractive, uh, approaches to the manufacturing of the construct, but then also using the skeletal stem cells and vascular stem cells to really create a, uh, unit that can be, um -- can contain blood flow and support the mechanical loads that activities, that daily -- daily living require.


After 20 years, I would imagine if a patient walks in, and he has any kind of bone defect anywhere in the body, like, defect in your skull, in your arm, in your hips, anywhere, all we have to do is take a scan of that patient, and ask engineers to make a new part for that specific patient.

And that'll be made, replaced, and he'll be on his way in a few months' time, where there is no need of anymore operations, anymore surgery, and he can restore the function of that specific part fully.

And so, that's what I would imagine after 10, 15 years.

And that's a really important aspect of things, is that we also have the people and the ability to do that here locally with the relationship between SBI and SUNY Upstate, where we can design and run these clinical trials.

We have a great orthopedics department, a great rehabilitation department, and again, a great engineering department here.

All the pieces are falling into place, right here in Syracuse to do this work.