Duke University engineers developing special 3D printer for bone reconstruction

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DURHAM, N.C. (WNCN) – A trauma patient who could lose their leg arrives in the emergency department.

“Say the bone dies or they put an autograft in, which is bone from some other location of your body, and that dies. Then you would have to have an amputation,” professor Kenneth Gall explained.

That can potentially be avoided with the use of a specifically designed 3D printer.

A CT scan and a call from the surgeon put the 3D printer to work using metals and polymers to reconnect shattered bone.

“What a titanium scaffolding does that’s porous is it supports that, it kind of bridges that gap and allows the bone to grow across the titanium through the titanium to the other side of the bone,” said Gall, who leads the research and is a professor of mechanical engineering at Duke University.

The final product takes a few weeks to complete, giving enough time to ensure the patient is free of infection.

“What’s kind of exciting about this field is that, 10 years ago, this wasn’t possible. But today, we’re actually doing these clinically,” Gall said.

In the meantime, trials are underway for less severe injuries. Gall sees 3D printing as one day becoming the standard of care for many reconstructive surgeries.

“I really gravitated to this biomedical space because you can really see the impact on an individual person and then extend that into multiple people, so it’s really a great feeling,” he said.

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