Traditionally manufactured implants have their limitations, as they can only be produced in a certain number of shapes and sizes, posing problems in terms of patient fit. Joint replacement devices can be agents of stress shielding — the process whereby metal implants remove stress from the patient’s bone, which responds by reducing in density and becoming weaker. Cardiac implants require routine removals to replace batteries.
What’s a medical device designer to do? Make the implants smarter. The smart implant is medicine’s latest innovation, a tiny chip implanted in surgery which is able to measure patients’ pH and hormone levels, blood glucose concentration, bacteria, electrical activity and temperature, providing doctors with real-time biofeedback. Patients equipped with smart implants have a lower risk of serious infection post-op, suffer from less discomfort and pain, and could also be less likely to need revision surgeries in the future.
The advent of additive manufacturing offers a route to the design of patient-specific implants (PSIs). The manufacturing method also imposes fewer geometric constraints than subtractive manufacturing. PSIs designed and manufactured according to a patient’s computed tomography scan encourages the implant to integrate with the patient’s bone, reducing the risk of loosening. The use of 3D printing enables surgeons to control additional material properties and design implants that mimic a patient’s bone stiffness, density and trabecular structure, which can reduce stress shielding and improve physical function.
Read more: How Smart Implants Improve Patient Outcomes
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