Swansea-UniversityAlmost all of us know someone who has either had knee surgery, is suffering from cartilage issues–or we ourselves have experienced it. We are continually amazed at ‘what they can do these days’ in terms of taking a patient from excruciating pain in the ER, straight to surgery, knee replacements, and then being up and walking again in what seems to be an almost unbelievable amount of time.

From the outside, these processes may look quick and easy–and while the medical profession has made leaps and bounds in getting people up and running again, quite literally, it’s not all easy peasy when it comes to getting your knee replaced. There’s still plenty of pain, healing, and rehab involved in the process. Issues such as faulty implants due to poor material quality are always a concern, as well as post-op infections, fractures, and more.

The conversation looms larger as does the growing need for eliminating complications as greater volumes of people are the beneficiaries of knee replacements. Also, a greater number of people under the age of 50 are now undergoing knee surgeries due to participation in sports and the growing trends in more extreme activities and events like marathons, triathlons, and the like. On the flip side, the growing numbers of those suffering from obesity and leading sedentary lifestyles put just as much strain on the body, causing more reason for knee surgeries.

Scientists and those in the medical profession though have a dedication to constantly trying to improve these processes, and with cartilage replacement it all comes down to better materials as well as–most importantly–those that can be customized for the patient. And when that can happen quickly and affordably it’s a win-win that all patients should be in on.

Scan of a knee joint with the design and rebuild of a Samsonium implant.

Scan of a knee joint with the design and rebuild of a Samsonium implant.

3D printing is responsible for transformation across many sectors today, but especially in the world of medical implants and devices.

Because 3D printed implants have the ability to substantially change the quality of life for patients, the technology has the attention of many doctors–and their patients. Currently, a new type of material that may both hasten and improve the process of providing 3D printed knee implants to replace damaged cartilage is on the horizon thanks to ongoing research by innovative scientists at Swansea University-UK.

With Samsonium, scientists are planning on making improvements on what we already consider to be amazing in terms of 3D printing. With their new 3D printed material, they are able to bring greater durability to the 3D printed knee implant, offering impressive tensile strength in a new 3D printing filament. Samsonium is also non-toxic, offers the desirable, required ‘slippery’ texture, and inhibits bacteria from growing.

More technically known as nylon titanium powder additive polymer, the material is compatible with FDM 3D printing, and presents a progressive alternative to replacing both the collagen fibers and matrix (within chondrocyte cells) which become denigrated usually due to arthritis, and present the need for replacement.

UntitledThe material is constructed with ‘the purest form of a delta transition of Nylon 6/9, Nylon 6 and Nylon 6T with a crystallinity optimisation process in addition to post processing for maximum bonding during a 3D Printing thermal transition process.

Samsonium is not only said to be stronger than other 3D printing materials, but after testing, the scientists report that it is actually ten times stronger than ABS or PLA 3D printing filament. As is often the case in scientific breakthroughs, this material was actually developed for other applications–including going to space–due to its superior strength.

“Samsonium has superior performance for any number of applications. We first started to develop a material specifically for making high strength low weight satellite applications for an orbital manufacturing project,” said engineer Dr. Daniel J. Thomas, responsible for creating the new material. “However, after we determined that it has ultra efficient slippage qualities and impact-absorbing properties then we re-engineered it to become a low cost treatment for arthritis. The secret to its high strength is the added matrix of titanium 6/4, these millions of individual bonds increases its strength by an additional twenty five percent.”

Realizing the potential it could have for medical implants was an exciting breakthrough for the team, not only due to changing the game in materials research and experimenting with new applications, but because they saw it has the ability to improve quality of life for knee-surgery patients in an even greater capacity. While the processes for knee replacement and implants have already come a long way, Samsonium takes that even further with a material that shows no de-lamination under stress and is able to imitate that of real live tissue. Offering superior load-bearing capacity, this 3D printing material is also safe in that it meets “REACH” requirements as defined by the ECHA European Chemicals Agency.

“During the project we produced a prototype cartilage joint replacement for trial. By careful printing Samsonium at a speed of 20mm/sec and at an extrusion temperature of 250°C then we were able to produce a prototype precision knee implant,” said Thomas.

“These are often more difficult than bone replacements as the part must accurately conform to an existing internal bone structure and be pliable enough to conform to unusual mounting methods. They must be inherently strong to keep the joint from becoming misaligned by stress, and most importantly, provide a long term slippery surface to the biological mating surface for up to thirty years or more.”

In producing the implants, the team scans the knee and uses Mimics software to produce the 3D printed implant which offers the benefits of not only much greater affordability, but also customization, and creation of the implants on demand. With the idea of medical professionals being able to produce the implants right at the hospital, a whole new plane of accessibility is offered.

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“In less than one hour an implant can be 3D printed complete to ±185µm degree of precision,” states Thomas. “Under compression testing the newly printed and pliable implants do split, delaminate, break or tear. They can also be autoclaved up to five times and still show no subsequent deformation.”

Another material, Taulman Nylon 680, recently highlighted by Hague University surgeons demonstrates other groundbreaking qualities for use inside the human body like that of bone replacement–again with 3D printed parts made on demand, and specific to the patient. The Nylon 680 material could have multiple uses, including that of affordable dental applicatons.

Discuss your thoughts on these new 3D printing materials in the Samsonium forum over at 3DPB.com.

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