A lot of the 3D printing resources out there are geared not for home use, or even for commercial use, but for the application of this technology in the world of medicine. 3D printing has had an incredible impact on the medical world, from creating lightweight, affordable prosthetics to groundbreaking surgeries that would have been impossible before.
It’s now being used to create bio-absorbable bone-like implants by a team of researchers in Canada.
The New Medical Implants
3D printed implants aren’t exactly new. They’ve been used for a little while now. However, conventional implants still have problems.
For instance, they eventually have to be removed, causing further trauma to the patient and increasing costs even more. A team of Canadian researchers hopes to change that by creating absorbable implants that will eventually disappear right within the body.
The team is based at the University of Waterloo in Ontario, and the 3D printed implants they’re developing have a lot of potential. The team includes a post-doctoral researcher and lecturer, as well as a professor of mechanical and mechatronics studies, orthopedic surgeons, pathologists and other specialists.
So far, the project has spanned over six years and it’s nearing a successful conclusion. The implants being worked with are made from calcium polyphosphate powder, which is very similar to human bone.
As the body creates new bone, the implant material is slowly absorbed by the body.
According to the research team leader, Mihaela Vlasea, “For my PhD, I designed a new additive manufacturing machine from scratch. That was really tough and at times I didn’t think I could do it.”
She then added, “But the meetings we had with the team made me see where the project was going. It was inspiring. The current team is a dynamic group. Ideas flow fast and we always have a purpose in mind when we’re designing implants and processes for additive manufacturing.”
Currently, the team is hard at work on two implants that will be tested on sheep. Each one is made with the same calcium phosphate powder, and will be printed on Vlasea’s custom-made 3D printer (the one she made from scratch for her PhD).
The printer uses a powder deposition process. Afterward, joints are made and then baked so that they are able to be implanted.
Human testing is scheduled after animal testing is complete.
The real innovation here is the material, according to Vlasea. Biocompatible materials are not new, but the calcium phosphate powder the team is using is so close to human bone that it’s virtually indistinguishable.
This ensures that, over time, the implant is absorbed completely and replaced by healthy, living new bone.
The implications of this new technique are enormous. It holds promises for optimizing not only surgery, but patient recovery in any situation where implants are necessary.