On October 1st a major research project, led by the Maastricht UMC+, will start on ‘smart’ 3D printed implants for the repair of major bone defects. The research focusses on the development of biologically active implants, which can be tailored to individual patient needs. If successful this will lead to faster revalidation and a decrease in the need for revision surgery. The European investment fund Interreg VA Flanders – the Netherlands recently announced to invest almost €2.3 million in the project, half the total investment. Additional cofounding is provided by the Ministry of Economic Affairs (NL), as well as the Provinces of Limburg (NL) and Flemish-Brabant (B) for a combined amount of €1.1 million.
Joint wear is an inevitable problem in an aging society. Imagine for instance the degeneration of the hip joint and the spine, or cartilage damage in the knees. Replacing these joints with an implant can be a solution for patients, but currently such devices have a limited life expectancy. The eventual wear of the implant can even cause larger bone defects, requiring invasive revision surgery. The regrowth of the boy’s own bone cells on the damaged site would be the ideal cure. Scientist are currently hard at work at making that a real possibility, though the use of 3D printed implants.
Classic implants are made out of titanium or plastic and are aimed at stabilizing the joint. Few variations exist, meaning that roughly every patient is treated in the same way. ‘Smart’ implants are also made out of titanium, but despite that they are given special properties which stimulate bone adhesion and growth. With the development of 3D printing techniques it is possible to tailor make a unique implant for every individual patient. “Every patient is unique and has specific needs.”, says principal investigator dr. Chris Arts, an expert in the field of applied biomaterials. “An individual’s age, weight, bone density and restorative capacity: these are all factors that influence the joint and the required treatment.”
The 3D printed implants have a web-like structure, with large intermediate spaces. A unique framework is created into the smallest detail, onto which bone cells can optimally attach and grow. The implants can also be equipped with an antibacterial coating, allowing the prevention of infection. Besides this, work is also underway towards a new generation of biologically degradable implants, allowing them to be completely replaced by the body’s own cells. The advantages are numerous according to Arts: “Patient revalidation will be much better and faster, the risk of infection smaller and the effect of implant wear will be minimal.” Prof. dr. Lodewijk van Rhijn, head of the department of Orthopedic Surgery at the Maastricht UMC+ complements: “This project shows in an innovative way how fundamental knowledge on biomaterials and bone growth can be transferred to clinical applications for the patient.” The researchers are hoping to show the first clinical results of these implants in four years.
The project is named “PRosPEROS” (Printing PERsonalized Orthopedic inplantS) and fits very well within the pact that was made between the provinces of Flemish-Brabant (B) and Limburg (NL) to stimulate the development of regenerative medicine in the region. Besides the Maastricht UMC+, four other universities (KU Leuven, UMC Utrecht, Delft University of Technology, and Uniklinik RWTH Aachen) and seven SME partners (3D Systems/LayeWise NV, Medanex Clinic BVBA, 2Move Implants BV, Xilloc Medical BV, 4WEB EU. B.V , PCOTech BV, and Antleron BVBA) also participate. The project will provide direct and indirect employment opportunities within the involved companies and knowledge institutions; Only in the Euregion Flanders alone 20 jobs at the minimum.