Aug 11, 2016 | By Alec

Japan is a unique country for many reasons, but they probably aren’t very happy to top the list of nations with the highest proportion of elderly citizens. In fact, a massive 33 percent of the Japanese population is older than sixty. While it certainly says something about Japanese diets and medical care, such statistics bring their own economic, social and medical challenges to the table. The medical sector, for instance, is facing the enormous (financial) challenge of efficiently caring for a rapidly growing group of elderly people.

To combat these challenges, Japanese researchers are working hard to develop new and more cost-effective treatment methods for typical old-age complications and diseases. Researchers from the Nagoya City University believe that 3D printing could be key in that process, and have therefore started collaborating with metal 3D printing startup J 3D to find an efficient treatment method for broken hips and other hip-related complications such as rheumatoid disease. As current hip replacement procedures are inefficient, costly and prone to errors, they have begun development on 3D printed artificial hip joints that are custom made for each and every patient to minimize the likelihood of complications.

This could be a very important innovation, as broken hips are very common among the elderly. And as the amount of Japanese people above the age of 65 is only set to grow over the coming decades, demand for hip replacement surgeries is expected to skyrocket.

Overview of financial challenges caused by growing need for plastic surgeries by elderly population. Left Y axis: market costs in 100 million yen units. Right Y Axis: growing elderly population in 10,000 people units. Green and purple: costs of conventional artificial joints and bone connection materials. Light brown: predicted costs.

Likelihood of different bone fractures in aging women. Y axis: yearly occurrences (10,000 people units). X axis: age. Different colors represent different bones.

Specifically, the Japanese researchers are seeking to develop a hip joint solution that can be customized for each and every patient, and that will restore normal hip movement. While normal hip movement can be restored with existing implants as well, many people continue to live in severe pain. The new 3D printed solution should also, through customization and a perfect fit, remove most of that pain. Importantly, the complete state of the patient’s skeletal structure could be taken into consideration during design. It stands in stark contrast to those one-size-fits-all joints that are made to fit by scraping down bone structures.

But as the Japanese researchers revealed, individualized implant solutions also carry significant financial benefits with them. If pre-made to fit, surgical times are expected to decrease, while patients will recover more quickly and thus won’t need lengthy hospital stays. This carries numerous other advantages with it: rehabilitation can start earlier and won’t take as long, while the rest of the bone structure will be less likely to degenerate as well. The 3D printed implants will also have a very long shelf life, reducing the likelihood of follow-up surgeries.

Moreover, the Japanese designers see other advantages too. Among others, this breakthrough could decrease the dependence on foreign imports (up to 90 percent of medical equipment is imported). Innovations like this could, they argue, greatly help a medical field faced with the financial challenges of a super-aging society.

These 3D printed hip solutions are being developed using J 3D’s metal 3D printing platform, and rely on a procedure we’ve already seen in many other medical 3D printing applications. CT data from patients can be used to build 3D printable models, which are 3D printed in as little pieces as possible. It’s a procedure that ensures a perfect fit and provides surgeons with all the necessary data long before the patient reaches the operating table.

While the Japanese researchers did not reveal when they expected the hip joints to be completed, they have already argued that the same principles should be applied to other common joints, such as the knees, shoulders and even parts of the spine. 3D printing, it seems, could play an important role in alleviating the problems caused by Japan’s super-aging society.



Posted in 3D Printing Application



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