EpiBone uses 3D technology to grow human bones outside the body – 3DPrint.com

The human body has amazing abilities to repair itself, but it’s far from perfect; some injuries or deformities are too great for the body itself to repair. For centuries this has been accepted as a fact of life, but as technology develops there are fewer and fewer irreparable things that can happen to a person. In the 19th century, it would have seemed inconceivable that bacterial infections could ever be killed with a simple pill, but antibiotics are coming soon. Today, most people would say it’s impossible to grow real human body parts, but we’re beginning to realize that’s not the case.

Nina Tandon has been growing human tissue since she was a biomedical engineering student at Columbia University. She began experimenting with heart and skin tissue, then moved on to one of the most delicate types of organic matter: bone. Tandon is the co-founder and CEO of EpiBone, a startup that has discovered a way to literally grow human bones.

nina-tandon-at-the-laboratory

Repairing damaged bones is painful and difficult, as anyone who has ever broken a bone knows. It becomes even more difficult when the bone is actually missing due to disease or birth defect, or when a bone is broken so badly that it cannot be put back together without additional help. Bone grafts are painful, unpredictable and come with a host of potential complications, so they have been a focus of concern for the medical industry lately. With 3D printing and other technologies solving even the toughest medical problems, bone grafting is a priority, and we’ve seen many researchers tackling the problem with an intriguing variety of approaches.

finished epiboneHowever, what most of these approaches have in common is 3D technology. Some organizations print synthetic bone grafts with biocompatible materials like ceramic; others use animal bones as a base to regenerate human bones. EpiBone falls into the second category, but what makes the company particularly interesting is that its process uses a patient’s own cells to grow new bone outside the body.

The EpiBone technique is surprisingly simple. A CT scan is taken of the patient’s damaged bone and a 3D model is created. This 3D model is used to CNC mill an animal bone – usually a cow – into the exact shape of the graft that is to be implanted into the patient. Then the fat cells are removed from the patient and the fat stem cells are isolated. (Fat stem cells are able to grow into many other forms of tissue, making them ideal for this process.) These stem cells are placed in a bioreactor with ground animal bone; the idea is that they will grow around the bone, essentially engulfing it – when the bioreactor is opened, new bone made up of the patient’s own cells will be ready for implantation. Once implanted, it continues to grow and fuse with the surrounding bone.

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Of course, it’s not really as simple as it sounds – conditions have to be carefully designed and monitored for cells to grow the way they need to. EpiBone is currently testing the procedure by growing crabapples for pigs, and human trials could potentially begin in a few years, but there’s still a lot of work to do. Ultimately, the EpiBone team also wants to try to grow larger, more complex bones. Watch the video below for a detailed overview of the process. Discuss this new technology on the EpiBone 3D Printed Bone forum at 3DPB.com.