Three NC State researchers have used a new electron beam freeform fabrication process to produce the first solid or “fully dense” metal bone implants ever made through that process. The accomplishment of Drs. Denis Cormier and Ola Harrysson of the Department of Industrial Engineering, and Dr. Denis Marcellin-Little, an orthopedic surgeon at the College of Veterinary Medicine, is not just a prototype, but a functional solid metal implant designed to precisely
fit a patient’s existing bone.

Previous models, such as knee implants, produced by freeform fabrication (FFF) have been made of non-metals, and used only for visualization, planning, and practice for complex orthopedic procedures—not as implants. “In contrast, this metal product could be safely implanted in a patient,” said Cormier.

Formerly known as rapid prototyping, FFF uses “slices” of computerized three-dimensional images of an object to direct an electron beam that deposits successive layers of titanium or steel until a copy of the computer model is produced.

“In the past, orthopedic surgeons have worked with bone plate that you couldn’t design or that you couldn’t manufacture to the right shape and size,” added Marcellin-Little. “Now we’re working with metals that can be customized and are good for biocompatibility. The size, thickness, length, and shape of that implant would be adjusted to fit the particular problem and the specific geometry and biology of that patient,” he said. “The implant will be more ergonomically and biomechanically appropriate and stable.”

Marcellin-Little anticipates that the first clinical application will most likely be the use of titanium bone plates for complex orthopedic repairs or bone deformities in dogs. The three researchers agree, though, that the ultimate use will be for dog’s best friend.

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