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Many 3D printing conferences these days have something in common – a startup competition of some sorts. These competitions are often a highlight of conferences as they showcase the promising young companies coming up in the industry, as well as give those companies a boost in the form of investment funding. At the recent 3DHEALS conference in April, a startup called Nanochon took first place after delivering its pitch to a group of investors including GE VenturesAsimov VenturesDigital Industrialist, and others.

Nanochon was founded in 2016 by Dr. Ben Holmes and Dr. Nathan Castro, who were both working on novel strategies for orthopedics at the time. Dr. Castro was investigating new candidate materials for cell growth and saw potential in nanostructured polyurethane (nPU) as a cartilage replacement due to its unique chemical and physical properties, which allow it to support rapid stem cell growth and tissue formation. Dr. Holmes was exploring strategies for scaling up existing experimental materials to meet clinical needs, and discovered that 3D printed nPU has mechanical properties similar to cartilage and can support vascularized bone growth, which is essential for integration of any joint implant and its clinical success.

The founders worked together to come up with a new type of cartilage implant that can replace lost cartilage on a short-term basis and can fuse with the body on a longer term, improving patient outcomes. The implant is targeted at knee injury patients who are younger and more active. Typically under 55 years old, these patients often want to return to more strenuous activities, and present treatment options are unsatisfactory for a number of reasons having to do with invasiveness, complications or general lack of effectiveness, particularly long term.

Nanochon’s implantable medical device (IMD) is 3D printed from a novel, nanostructured synthetic material that effectively replicates true cartilage. It promotes new tissue growth and healing, allowing patients to have a shorter and more thorough recovery, and can be implanted arthroscopically, which is much less invasive than other types of surgery. Currently, the implants have been designed to treat critical-sized cartilage lesions on the articulate surface of the knee; ultimately, Nanochon foresees them being used to treat tears, sports injuries, early onset osteoarthritis and other forms of full-thickness cartilage loss.

Since its founding, Nanochon has grown remarkably quickly. The company has completed safety testing and a proof of concept study using a prototype to treat large cartilage injuries in animals.

“Nanochon was founded in 2016 but since then we have been able to move from an interesting science experiment to a meaningful pre-clinical proof of concept demonstration, which is allowing us to quickly move into clinical testing,” Dr. Holmes told 3DPrint.com. “I think it is a testament to what a powerful tool 3D printing can be, both for new applications in medicine/industry and the ability to test and iterate quickly.”

Recently Nanochon was awarded a Phase I SBIR from the National Science Foundation, and is planning to undertake a human study in 2019. In addition to human patients, Nanochon’s technology can also be applied to equine injuries, but whether human or horse, patients can benefit from faster recovery, less expensive treatment, and overall more effective and permanent healing thanks to this groundbreaking startup.

Discuss this and other 3D printing topics at 3DPrintBoard.com or share your thoughts in the comments below.

[Images: Nanochon]

 

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