Researchers have created complex gum tissue and bone structures in the lab, using 3D bio-printing. The printed tissue has already been transplanted successfully into animals, and could be used by dentists to replace missing teeth and bone in human patients within two years.
The pioneering work at Griffith University, in Brisbane, Australia, was carried out by periodontist Saso Ivanovski.
The first step in the process is to scan the affected jaw to design replacement parts.
“A specialised bioprinter, which is set at the correct physiological temperature is then able to successfully fabricate the gum structures that have been lost to disease – bone, ligament and tooth cementum – in one single process," Ivanovski says.
"The cells, the extracellular matrix and other components that make up the bone and gum tissue are all included in the construct and can be manufactured to exactly fit the missing bone and gum for a particular individual."
The breakthrough means that missing teeth can be replaced, even in cases where gum disease or trauma has destroyed too much bone for dental implants to inserted. Bone grafts are currently used in these cases, but the new tissue engineering approach would mean a much less invasive method.
"A big benefit for the patient is that the risks of complications using this method will be significantly lower because bone doesn’t need to be removed from elsewhere in the body," says Ivanovski. "We also won’t have the problem of limited supply that we have when using the patient’s own bone.”
He believes it would also be a less expensive procedure.
The technique is currently in pre-clinical trials and could be rolled out for the public within the next two years.
Bill Condie is a science journalist based in Adelaide, Australia.
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