Feb 26, 2016 | By Alec

3D printing is already hard at work in the implant industry, taking over business with custom-made and unique 3D printed implants. However, even these are not magical solutions. Though they provide a much better fit, they are still followed by months or even years of painful hobbling around and rehabilitation. The pain and challenges become even worse should implants be replaced or removed after several years. Fortunately, even that challenge is being tackled – by 3D printing. A research team from the University of Waterloo in Ontario, Canada is working on bone-like 3D printed implants that become absorbed into the body.

The study is being pioneered by post-doctoral researcher and lecturer Mihaela Vlasea, and the team is headed by mechanical and mechatronics professor Ehsan Toyserkani. It also includes orthopedic surgeons, pathologists and students from Mount Sinai Hospital in Toronto, material specialists from the University of Toronto’s dentistry department and even a veterinarian surgeon from the University of Guelph. Vlasea has been working on this project for the past six years, and the results are impressive. It should, in the near future, lead to 3D printed implants made from a calcium polyphosphate powder – similar to bone, making it bio-absorbable while being replaced with fresh tissue.

As Vlasea explained, it all started with her PhD research years ago. “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 says “But the meetings we had with the team made me see where the project was going. It was inspiring.” Upon completing that in 2008, she became part of this 3D printing research group. “It’s a dynamic group. Ideas flow fast and we always have a purpose in mind when we’re designing implants and processes for additive manufacturing. It makes the project relevant,” she adds.

And their latest 3D printing research is moving at a high pace right now. Vlasea is currently crafting two sheep implants, each made with calcium phosphate powder. All this is being made on Vlasea’s custom-made 3D printer. Using a powder-deposition printing technique, custom joints are made, which are subsequently baked to become completely solid and implantable. Should these tests be a success, human testing is not far off in the future.

According Vlasea, their material innovations are the key to their success. Though biocompatible materials are more frequently 3D printed, calcium polyphosphate is actually so compatible new bone will grow directly into the implant. Over time, the implant is completely replaced with new bone, not only removing the removing the need for additional surgery, but also optimizing recovery. Though several challenges still need to be overcome, Vlasea further said that the principle can be applied to just about every necessary implant -from knees, hips, shoulders and ankles. Now that would be a 3D printing revolution.



Posted in 3D Printing Application



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