Aug 30, 2017 | By Tess

Researchers from Curtin University in Australia have teamed up with surgeons from the Royal Perth Hospital and the St John of God Subiaco Hospital to develop a 3D printed device that can help patients suffering from severe bone fractures or osteoporosis recover from surgery, particularly spinal surgery.

Typically, serious spinal surgeries require the fusion of several vertebrae, which helps to keep the spine stable after an injury or infection. In order to fuse two vertebrae together, surgeons must carefully insert bone screws to secure the plates and bone grafts in place. As one can imagine, this process requires extreme caution and care, as any mistake can lead to damaged tissue or worse.

That is, when patients have suffered a severe injury or are prone to weakened bones, the screws can become loose or dislodged, which can injure the patient even more seriously. Facing this challenge regularly, the joint team of Australian researchers and surgeons decided to try and find a better solution.

As Dr. Gabriel Lee, the Head of Department Neurosurgery at St John of God Subiaco Hospital, explained: “When people break their bones surgeons can use implants such as plates or rods to attach the bones back together. These implants are attached to bone using conventional screws during surgery.”

“However, if the bone is weak due to osteoporosis in older patients or the fracture is particularly severe then these screws may loosen or pull out. This may re-injure the patient and require them to undergo a repeat surgery, which is not only a poor outcome for an individual but also an additional burden to the healthcare system.”

Part of their research has involved the development of an expandable bone screw 3D printed from medical-grade titanium. This optimized device, they say, provides stronger bone fixation than traditional bone screws.

Matthew Oldakowski, a biomedical engineer from Curtin University, explains: “Our early work demonstrated that our expandable screws attach more strongly to the bone and so may prevent the screw from loosening or pulling out. The novel design allows the screw to be easily expanded and able to be safely removed if required, which sets them apart from other expandable screws currently in the market.”

The design for the 3D printed screw has been patented and will be taken into further development stages (i.e. safety and lab testing) thanks to a AU$414,000 grant from the National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC). The grant will also aim to develop the device’s commercial potential.

At this point, the researchers behind the 3D printed screw are hopeful that their breakthrough device will go to clinical trials within the next three years. The University of Western Australia and the University College London are also collaborating on the medical 3D printing project.

 

 

Posted in 3D Printing Application

 

 

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