Orthopedic implants go 3D

The Maker Movement has used Atmel-powered 3D printers like MakerBot and RepRap for quite some time now, but it is quite clear that 3D printing is quickly entering a new and important stage, especially in the medical space.

Indeed, earlier this summer Bits & Pieces discussed how researchers managed to design and print a 3D splint that saved the life of an infant born with severe tracheobronchomalacia – a serious birth defect that causes the airway to collapse. And just a few weeks ago, we took a closer look at how Melbourne scientists have taken a big step towards the development of “grow your own” cartilage to treat cancers, osteoarthritis and traumatic injuries.

The latest 3D medical news? 3D printed orthopedic implants designed by Peking’s University Third Hospital in Beijing. According to 3Ders, one such example includes a titanium-based pelvic implant fitted with 3D printing technology or more specifically, electron beam melting. Liu Zhongjun, who designed the above-mentioned implant, has been working on similar projects for over four years, developing dozens of 3D printed spinal implants along the way.

“We started clinical trials on 3D printed implants late last year and now we have used dozens of such implants for more than 50 patients. All the patients recover very well. Nobody seems to have any undesirable side effects or adverse reaction,” Liu explained.

“3D printing technology has two very nice features: It can print specific structures and is capable of producing porous metal. For example, atlantoaxial is an oddly shaped vertebrae, the shapes of orthopedic implants used nowadays are usually geometric patterns and can not attach to bones firmly. [However], 3D printed implant fits perfectly and could greatly enhance the firmness.”

Zhongjun also noted that bones are more than capable of growing into the metal pores and enhancing the overall strength of an implant.

“In the past we used clinical titanium mesh, but with the growth of bone, titanium mesh could easily stuck into the bone and cause collapse,” Liu continued. “[Nevertheless], 3D printed implants fit the bone completely. As a result, not only [is] the pressure on the bone  reduced, but [this process] also allows the bone to grow into the implants. In this aspect, 3-D printed implants are more reliable than traditional ones.”

8 thoughts on “Orthopedic implants go 3D

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