Ulnar implant available in three sizes.
One of the fastest growing sectors in the additive industry is healthcare and we’re constantly amazed by the developments occurring every day in the sector to improve and save lives. But it isn’t just humans benefiting from these advancements and barely a week goes by when we don’t hear a story about how 3D printing has been used to help animals, from prosthesis for a sea turtle or a 3D printed foot to help a duck walk again.
UK-based implant specialist, Osteogen recently used 3D printing to create a viable elbow joint replacement for dogs. In a healthy canine elbow joint, the ulna articulates with the humerus via a groove called the trochlea, with both bones cushioned by cartilage. However, Osteoarthritis caused by developmental problems can wear away the cartilage, limiting movement and causing stiffness and pain.
In search of a solution to create a viable elbow joint replacement for canines, experts at Osteogen were presented with a significant challenge: how thin a layer of titanium alloy could be applied to the ulna to minimise bone removal, whilst ensuring maximum durability and reliability for the implant?
To create the implant, Paul Smirthwaite of Osteogen drew on long experience of designing orthopaedic implants for humans and sought out the expertise of Proto Labs to produce an accurate prototype. During the design phase, Osteogen and Proto Labs’ collaborated to determine the optimum depth of titanium applied by 3D printing.
Osteogen’s innovative ulnar implant uses a strong polyetheretherketone (PEEK) thermoplastic bearing which is secured to a thin titanium base plate The bearing has a ridge which extends inside the humeral implant and allows an axle to be secured between the humeral and the ulnar implants.
Titanium alloy was chosen for its strength and biocompatibility. Proto Labs produced a prototype that mimics the honeycomb effect of natural bone structure which in the final titanium parts, allows bone to grow into the pores and ensure strong implant fixation.
Paul commented: “When it comes to developing pioneering designs like this elbow joint, Proto Labs’ quick response means if necessary that we can go through several iterations quickly, and still meet our target deadlines. Proto Labs is also very proactive in suggesting design improvements, which again saves time and ensures production is successful and the project is viable.”
Osteogen’s ulnar implant is available off-the-shelf, in three sizes: small, for dogs of Border Collie size; medium, for Labrador size dogs; and large, for bigger breeds such as Alsatians. The company is now looking to develop an ankle joint replacement using similar materials.