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The impact of 3D-printed biodegradable metals in orthopaedics

Article-The impact of 3D-printed biodegradable metals in orthopaedics

Shutterstock 3d print ortho
3D printing in orthopaedics is a prominent trend bringing treatment precision and rapid customisation of medical implants to the forefront.

The importance of 3D printing biodegradable metals in orthopaedic implants lies in their potential to modernise surgery. The benefits include reduced risk of long-term complications, promotion of natural bone healing, and improved patient comfort and sustainability. Biodegradable metals eliminate the need for implant removal surgeries and reduce the risk of infection and inflammation. In addition to being medically advantageous, the fact they are biodegradable means they are also environmentally responsible.

In healthcare, 3D printing has enabled the production of intricate internal structures in metallic implants and the creation of custom-made medical implants. It has also allowed for the mass production of precise anatomical models for surgical preparation. By generating CAD models from MRI, X-ray and CT scans, 3D printing can produce patient-specific implants. The technology is a highly promising method for manufacturing medical equipment too, especially those made from biometals.

Related: Megatrends shaping healthcare in 2024

Dr. Attaallh Alrefaee, Specialist Orthopaedics, Medcare Hospital Sharjah, says in recent years there have been significant developments in the use of 3D printing technology. His team specialises in the creation of custom 3D-printed joints, alongside a comprehensive selection of surgical procedures. This includes total knee replacement, partial knee replacement, total hip replacement, 3D CT scans for patient joint assessment, and joint dimension measurements.

“This technology is now widely regarded as a cutting-edge approach, particularly when compared to the methods that were prevalent just a few years ago, which included interventional surgeries. The shift towards 3D printing within orthopaedics is a prominent trend, as it offers numerous benefits and improvements in patient care, treatment precision, and the customisation of medical implants and devices,” Dr. Alrefaee explains.

He also highlights that in surgery, accuracy and perfection are vitally important because any minor discrepancies can lead to complications or adverse outcomes. “Whether it’s aligning bones, suturing tissues, or implanting medical devices, achieving accuracy is essential to ensure the best outcome for the patient. Alignment is a critical factor, especially in joint replacement surgeries. The alignment of the artificial joint with the patient’s natural bone structure must be precise. Misalignment can lead to uneven wear and tear, instability, and discomfort for the patient.”

Looking at the prospects for orthopaedics, the industry can anticipate a transformative role for 3D-printed biodegradable metals. According to Dr. Alrefaee, the integration of 3D printing technologies has the potential to broaden its horizons significantly. Its applications will no longer be confined to traditional boundaries but will expand into diverse areas, with a particular impact expected in fields including sports medicine, joint replacement, and revision surgeries.

The significance of biodegradable metals in orthopaedic implants is growing, given the increasing elderly population and their vulnerability to health issues. The proportion of individuals aged 65 years and above is currently approaching 10 per cent of the global population, and this figure is projected to increase twofold by the year 2050. Current medical procedures often employ non-biodegradable metals, but the limitations of these materials have led to the emergence of bone tissue engineering (BTE). This is transforming orthopaedic implants, addressing the limitations of non-biodegradable metals. Biodegradable metals including calcium, zinc, iron, and magnesium are being explored, which can reduce complications and eliminate the need for secondary surgeries.

Related: Transforming surgical outcomes

In summary, the precise fit of 3D-printed implants and the ability to simulate procedures on anatomical models can significantly reduce surgery time. Surgeons can place implants more efficiently, minimising the need for extensive intraoperative adjustments. This not only benefits the patient by reducing the time under anaesthesia but also lowers the risk of complications associated with lengthy surgeries. The enhanced precision and preparation offered by 3D printing technology can lead to better outcomes and a reduced likelihood of post-operative issues, contributing to a smoother recovery process.

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