Oct 7, 2016 | By Alec

Every demographic expert says the same thing: western European populations are slowly aging. While that brings a host of economic and social challenges to the table, the medical sector will also need to increasingly adapt to efficiently provide medical procedures for typical old age problems, such as hip replacements. While many of those procedures are costly and time-consuming, 3D printing could provide an answer. Led by Dutch university Maastricht UMC+, medical experts from five universities are joining forces in the PRosPERoS research project to develop the next generation of joint-replacing implants through 3D printing.

That next generation is desperately needed, as the demand for joint-replacing implants is skyrocketing. Joints in the hip, back, and knees all become vulnerable in old age, while cartilage implants are particularly necessary for obese patients. While these are all challenges that can already be tackled, currently-used implants have a limited lifespan and necessitate multiple surgeries over longer periods of time. Over time, worn-out implants can even cause other bone defects. At the same time, the classic titanium or carbon fiber implants come in a few standard sizes, meaning that every patient receives the same treatment – regardless of whether or not it perfectly suits their specific condition.

As a result, a demand is growing for custom-made implants that perfectly align with the patient’s body – and 3D printing could play a vital role in their development. This new PRosPERoS project (PRinting PERsonalized orthopaedic implantS) is working on 3D printed ‘smart’ implants that facilitate natural regrowth of bone cells. The research is aimed at the development of biologically active implants, made especially for each and every patient. If successful, it could pave the way for quicker rehabilitation and a reduction of necessary follow-up surgeries.

Under current plans, these implants will be 3D printed in titanium, though they will also be designed to stimulate the growth and adherence of bone cells. The implants will be based on 3D scans, made for each and every patient. “Every patient is different and has special needs,” says chief researcher dr. Chris Arts. “Age, weight, bone density and individual regenerative capacity will all affect the joint and the required treatment method.” The 3D printed implants will also feature a web-like lattice interior, creating a microscopic network that optimally accommodates bone cells and their growth. A special antibacterial coating will prevent joint infections.

Over time, the same principles could even be applied to biodegradable implants, that are slowly replaced with regrown tissue. “That would greatly increase rehabilitation speeds, reduce the likelihood of infections and minimize implant erosion,” Arts said. Professor dr. Lodewijk van Rhijn, who heads the Orthopedics department in the Maastricht University Hospital, argued that this project shows just how new knowledge of biomaterials can benefit the patient, and hopes that the first clinical results can be presented within four year from now.

But of course, these plans are very ambitious and costly. To realize PRosPERoS, the European investment fund Interreg Nederland-Vlaanderen recently announced that they will invest 2.3 million euros into the project, covering half of the costs (4.6 million euros, or $5.1 USD). The Dutch Ministry for Economic Affairs and the Dutch and Belgian provinces of Limburg and Flemish-Brabant provided another grant of 1.1 million euros.

PRosPERoS will involve a wide range of Dutch and Belgian 3D printing and biomedical experts. Aside from Maastricht UMC+, four other universities are involved: KU Leuven, UMC Utrecht, Delft University of Technology and Uniklinik RWTH Aachen. 3D printing and orthopedic expertise will be provided by specialists from 3D Systems, Medanex Clinic BVBA, 2Move Implants BV, Xilloc Medical BV, 4WEB EU. B.V , PCOTech, and Antleron BVBA.



Posted in 3D Printing Application



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