Dec 21, 2017 | By Julia

Hala Zreiqat

A team of researchers from the University of Sydney, Australia, are pioneering a new type of 3D printed bone implant that could flip orthopaedic medicine on its head. For those of us who’ve experienced a fracture or broken bone, we all know that the healing process is time-consuming, costly, and painful, with no guarantee of complete success. That’s due in large part to our orthopedic technology, which has by and large remained the same for several generations: most fractured bones are just left alone to heal, usually accompanied by a rigid cast; in other cases, antiquated metal plates or screws are needed to repair the bones, which can do a number on many patients.

All that could soon be a thing of the past, as 3D printing continues to offer new, viable alternatives. Most recently, a Sydney-based professor and researcher by the name of Hala Zreiqat has been taking huge strides with the technology, along with her colleagues in the University’s biomedical engineering department. While that may not be altogether surprising, Zreiqat’s choice of material is not necessarily what you’d expect: the professor’s newest contribution to the field of orthopedic technology is a 3D printed ceramic implant that not only helps mend broken bones, but actually fuses with the natural bones over time, replacing the broken bits.

the traditional method of healing bones with metal screws

Zreiqat and her colleagues have been testing the 3D printed ceramic material for several years now, which has shown remarkable promise in healing broken arm bones in rabbits. More recently, the team has turned to sheep as testing subjects, in a new study which has continued to yield positive results. The 3D printed ceramic implants were successfully able to repair large leg fractures in the 8 sheep, unequivocally displaying the superiority of the new technology over conventional fracture treatment. The sheep were able to walk immediately after the surgery with their new implants, with plaster casts used only for the first month to help stabilize their legs. Time continued to reveal the positive impact of the implants: researchers witnessed complete healing in 25 percent of the fractures after only three months; after one year, the healing rate stood at a whopping 88 percent. Perhaps most exciting is when x-rays revealed the ceramic implant fusing successfully into the real bones as they grew back.

What does it all mean? While rabbits and sheep might not be the same as humans, they’re not that far off biologically speaking. If Zreiqat’s studies continue to prove successful, it could be only a short time before we’re reaping the benefits of 3D printed ceramic bone implants across the globe. In turn, that could boil down to faster healing times, less pain, and maybe even a longer lifespan for those suffering from osteoporosis.



Posted in 3D Printing Application



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