Orthopedic implants used to repair damaged and diseased bones and joints typically have a complex structure below the surface that helps native tissues grow into and secure the implants. In addition to this, surface treatments are often applied to even further improve the effectiveness of the implants.
These surface treatments, just as the name implies, apply mostly to the surface of the object and don’t do much on the complex insides where tissues eventually penetrate. Researchers at the Fraunhofer Institute for Surface Engineering and Thin Films (IST) in Braunschweig, Germany have developed a way to apply surface treatment to 3D printed implants on all the surfaces, be they inside or outside the implant.
This is done as a device is being 3D printed, applying a jet of cold plasma that contains reactive amino groups onto the plastic as it comes out of the printer. The amino groups bind with the plastic and eventually help living cells make the implant a welcoming home.
Because the plastic material is biodegradable, the implant would eventually be replaced by native tissues. “Our goal is for the bone cells to grow into the synthetic structure as quickly as possible and finally replacing the implant which is broken down gradually by the body’s own enzymes,” said Dr. Jochen Borris, in a statement, head of the Life Science and Ecology business unit at Fraunhofer IST.