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3D-Printed Medical Implants: Discover Some of the Most Innovative Projects

Published on October 1, 2021 by Carlota V.

Additive manufacturing in the medical implant sector is expected to reach $0.27 Billion by 2025. Previously, we presented you with a selection of the most innovative 3D-printed orthoses on the market. 3D printing enables the customization of medical implants that respond to each patient’s specific needs. The solutions created with 3D printing regularly outperform traditional implant methods in terms of design, manufacturing times, associated costs, and often times patient comfort and experience with the implant is improved. Today, we take a look at 3D printed implants—used to repair an organ, treat a disease, or supplement a function, all over a generally long period of time. 3D printing implants today are made of titanium, a metal prized by the medical sector for its biocompatibility. The body generally accepts this material well, a key component when it comes to implant placement. Below you will find some examples of 3D printed implants—this list is not exhaustive so feel free to share your comments at the bottom of the article!

3D-Printed Silicone Heart Valves

Of course, implants do not just include bones, though those are easier to create and thus more prolific on the market. Recently, we have also seen examples of implants for parts originally made from organic tissue. For example, this case of a bioinspired heart valve prosthesis, which was made using silicone AM. Created in a collaboration between a team of researchers from ETH Zurich and the South African company Strait Access Technologies, these artificial 3D printed heart valves were created as a way to replace valves in an aging population. The researchers decided to create the valve out of silicone as it is compatible with the human body. Additionally, by using 3D printing they would be able to make a valve that is a more perfect match to the patient. It should be noted that though the initial results were promising, they estimate that it will take another 10 years before these 3D printed heart valves could actually be on the market.

A 3D-Printed Carbon Artificial Retina

An additional application for 3D printed beyond bones is for retinas. In this case, an Australian engineer developed a 3D-printed artificial retina made out of carbon to help people see again. Dr. Matthew Griffith from the University of Sydney made a breakthrough when he realized that essentially, like a computer, a body is just a carbon-based semiconductor. With this knowledge, he determined that he could replicate an eye by creating a carbon (and thus fully bio-compatible) device that absorbed light and then created an electronic charge, exactly like an eye. Furthermore, thanks to low-cost manufacturing with 3D printing, it was entirely possible for him to design this artificial retina himself. Though the device is not actually completed yet and will not even go to clinical studies until the next three to five years, Griffith is hopeful that it will be useful for patients who have lost their sight, even potentially restoring color vision which is not currently possible.

A New Way to Make Knee Replacements

According to statistics, nearly 1 million people undergo knee and hip surgeries every year, making them one of the most common replacement surgeries. And yet, many of these replacements fail, and astonishingly despite this fact, joint reconstruction technology has not changed significantly in the past 50 years or so. American company Monogram Orthopedics is on a mission to change this. They are currently developing a product solution combining 3D printing and robotics to enable mass personalization of orthopedic implants. These implants are designed, according to the company, for maximum cortical contact and stability and designing a part that is as close to the patient’s original anatomy (thanks to a CT scan which will allow for a 3D representation of the original bone structure and 3D printing using a titanium alloy) as possible, making implants less painful and less likely to fail. Though they have not yet commercialized the product, they have reached a number of achievements including raising $16.7M and already completed their first Total Knee Arthoroplasty (TKA) procedure in March 2021.

Restorative Oral-maxillofacial Implants

AB Dental uses Selective Laser Sintering (SLS) to create customized Implant Systems and has innovated the technology and application in the oral-maxillofacial field. The company’s system allows doctors to plan dental and facial restoration treatments with more precision compared to traditional methods. The company offers several restorative 3D printed implants for patients, including sinus roof augmentation, orbital bone repair, and a subperiosteal implant for resorbed jaws.

Photo Credit: AB Dental

Customized Microporous Bones

With the trademarked motto “We Print Bone”, Particle3D was launched in 2014 by two medical engineering students and their professor with the goal of developing a new solution for replacing destroyed or surgically removed bone. Today, Particle3D is further developing patient-specific bone implants based on a patient’s own CT/MRI scan which results in 3D printed implants that provide uniquely bone-like internal architecture containing micro- and macro porosities—just like real bone.

 

3D-Printed Spinal Interbody Fusion Implant

NanoHive Medical is a pioneer in 3D printed spinal interbody fusion implants. Using its proprietary, biomimetic Soft Titanium lattice technology, the company offers surgeons and their patient’s biomechanical elastic modulus properties, precise diagnostic imaging, and osteoblast cell attraction and integration—all resulting in less stiffness or discomfort experienced for the patient and faster implant stability when compared to existing PEEK implant methods.

Photo Credit: NanoHive Medical

Nexxt Matrixx

The US company Nexxt Spine has been specializing in the manufacture of implants for spinal diseases for several years. With Nexxt Matrixx, the company has achieved another innovation: the 3D-printed titanium implants are intended to support osteogenesis, improve surface topography and promote the production of angiogenic factors. The naming seems to be inspired by the 75% porous grid of the implant, which promotes osteointegration and radiological visualization. The company uses equipment from GE Additive in the manufacture of its implants and thus relies on the DMLM process to manufacture its titanium parts. Andy Elsbury, the founder of Nexxt Spine states that patients and clinics particularly benefit from the strength and biocompatibility of the titanium implants.

Integration of an Eye Implant

The orbit is the bony cavity in which the eye sits, each one different in shape from person to person. Surgical procedures around the orbit are therefore complex and often long, especially when it comes to implants: doctors must ensure the position of the orbit and its correct insertion. At the Hong Kong Polytechnic University Industrial Center, a team 3D printed models to facilitate these operations. The team starts with the scanner and the patient’s x-ray to create a CAD model. She then prints the upper and lower parts of a mold on a Stratasys machine with a biocompatible thermoplastic and then presses a sheet of titanium into the mold to obtain the shape of the implant. This is not a 3D printed implant per se, but we wanted to present this application case to you which significantly reduces operating times.

On the left, the mold used to create the shape of the implant; on the right, an orbit model to help surgeons with their operations. (Photo Credit: Stratasys)

The First 3D-Printed PEEK Clavicle Implant

In February 2019, we informed you of a great breakthrough in the medical world: the manufacturer of 3D printers IEMAI 3D and the Kunming University Hospital had successfully implanted a clavicle 3D printed using PEEK, a highly resistant and biocompatible high-performance thermoplastic. The patient who received this 3D printed implant suffered from cancer and, having to undergo chemotherapy sessions, could not receive a metal implant. The device in question was tailor-made: additive manufacturing made it possible to meet patient requirements much more quickly and easily. It seems that PEEK was very well accepted by the latter’s body. The implant was printed on the IEMAI 3D MAGIC-HT-M machine.

Photo Credit: IEMAI 3D

3D-Printed Implants for Ear

The hammer, anvil, and stirrup are three bones located in our ear, the smallest in our human body because they do not grow after birth. Their shape, size, and position are therefore very important for the proper functioning of the ear. However, sometimes these bones break and need to be replaced. This is what happened in South Africa where a patient had 3D printed titanium bones implanted following a car accident. After a 3D scan of his middle ear, the team of surgeons behind the operation was able to model a bespoke implant, which was then printed on a powder bed laser fusion machine. Titanium was favored in this case for its biocompatibility and strength.

Ossicles are among the smallest bones in the human body. The picture shows a real ossicle and not the implant

3D-Printed Jaw Implant After Tumor Removal

Anelia Myburgh, is an Australian woman from Melbourne who improved her quality of life thanks to additive manufacturing technologies. Due to a malignant tumor located in her jaw and teeth, the doctors were forced to remove it, which caused a disfigurement in the woman’s face by losing more than 80% of the jaw. The case of de Myburgh led maxillofacial surgeon George Dimitroulis to explore the possibilities of additive manufacturing for the creation of custom models. Thus, he created a jaw implant with a titanium frame capable of incorporating bone grafts. After more than 5 hours of surgery and several months of recovery, we can affirm that the operation was a complete success and the advances in this technology gave Anelia the security and confidence in her life.

Renishaw’s Rib Cage

Due to breast cancer, 71-year-old Welshman Peter Maggs underwent an 8-hour operation to remove the tumor. In the surgical process, three ribs and part of his sternum were removed, so doctors looked for a way to replace the missing parts. To do this, they turned to metal additive manufacturing, specifically Renishaw solutions, in order to create a high-quality, biocompatible model of the rib cage. Cardiothoracic surgeon Ira Goldsmith explained that one of the main benefits of using a 3D printed prosthesis is that it can be completely customized and tailored to the patient. And he proved it, offering Maggs a fast and efficient solution.

3D printed implants

Flexible Polyamide 3D Printed Implants for Ribs

In 2018, In Bulgaria, Ivaylo Josifov arrived at the hospital with tonsillitis and left with a new 3D-printed rib. A first for the country. Doctors discovered a deformity in his ribs that pressed against the lungs, prompting immediate surgery. And to cure it, in partnership with Polish 3D printer manufacturer 3DGence, doctors have decided to use additive manufacturing. To do this, they first performed a 3D scanner of the patient’s bone and then 3D printed it from flexible polyamide. Thanks to the operation, and the cooperation between 3D printing players and doctors, Ivaylo Josifov is now in good health.

3D printed implants

Photo Credit: 3DGence

A Cranial 3D-Printed Implant

Tiffany Cullern is a young woman from Great Britain who suffered the fate of a brain tumor at the age of 20. It was a psammomatous juvenile ossifying fibroma, a benign tumor that had to be removed quickly so that the young woman’s brain was not damaged. So the doctors decided to have Tiffany undergo a 6-hour operation to remove the tumor. Although the operation went well, the girl did not respond two days later: her brain was swollen. In order to reduce the pressure, the doctors, therefore, had to remove part of the skull and the British woman had to live with 12.7 cm fewer skulls for the first three weeks after the operation. She was then implanted with a 3D-printed implant made of titanium, plastic, and calcium that has since replaced the missing part of the skull.

 

Partially 3D-Printed Cartilage Implant to Fight Osteoarthritis

In humans and dogs, a tiny layer of cartilage preserves joint surfaces and allows bones to glide together properly. Unfortunately, over time, this cartilage breaks down, resulting in osteoarthritis and therefore joint pain. To overcome this, researchers at North Carolina State University developed a textile-based implant containing cartilage derived from the patient’s stem cells. Partly 3D printed, this type of implant has been successfully tested on a group of dogs with hip problems. This group was split into two, and one part received the implant and the other did not. As you can imagine, the dogs that received the implant recovered to their full potential 4 months after the operation.

Photo Credit: Deposiphoto

What did you think of these 3D-printed medical implants? If you want to share some more we might have missed, you can leave a comment in the section below or on our Facebook and Twitter pages! Sign up for our free weekly Newsletter, all the latest news in 3D printing straight to your inbox!

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