Every patient is unique. Therefore, their treatment should be too
Reconstruction of facial bones presents a common challenge in surgery. Especially, when larger volumes of bone have been removed or destroyed due to tumors, infections, congenital bone defects, or trauma.
For the past 100 years, the medical industry has done a great job building a library of different materials that are suitable for different types of bone reconstruction. This has prompted the development of a wide variety of medical bone implants; those that are manufactured from synthetic materials such as titanium and PEEK, bone pieces harvested from the patient’s own body or from a donor, and finally, in recent years, progress has been made in the biomaterials field.
Yet, we see a profoundly impactful problem today; that the medical industry is trying to standardize bone implants though are faces and bodies are not standardized, but rather, highly unique and critical to our feeling of identity.
Much like shoe manufacturers in the footwear industry, the medical industry is trying to guess what sizes we are. However, our bodies are made out of 206 bones in all different shapes and sizes, and implants today are Ill-suited for this diversity.
Today, what surgeons really have is two options: either, they can make the patient fit the standardized implants available, or they can harvest bone pieces and remodel them during surgery to fit into the bone defect. Both solutions often result in ill-fitting implants.
Challenges in facial reconstruction
Especially in facial bone reconstruction, the shape of the implant really matters. An ill-fitting implant inserted into the jaw may cause complications with chewing, talking, and even breathing. Another critical aspect is the aesthetic problems that poorly fitting implants can cause. Our face comprises 14 unique bones which our identity is very much rooted in. Thus, though the patient will appreciate what the surgeon has done for them, patients who have undergone facial reconstruction often battle with what they look like because they cannot recognize themselves, and ultimately, this can lead to depression.
Unfortunately, patients’ experiences with facial reconstruction today are limited by these poor functional and aesthetic outcomes.
Industry progress: The quest for more natural implants in terms of material, shape, and structure
Frankly, the poor fit of most implants offered today is not the only problem. We are also still replacing the bone in our bodies with foreign materials, and in fact, 75% of us will, at some point in our lives, be living with parts of our bodies that we were not born with.
One of the most commonly used materials for bone reconstruction today is titanium, and standardized implants that are also a foreign material to the patient’s body entail high complication and re-surgery rates. Namely, because titanium implants can release trace materials over time, cause irritation, immunological response, and infection, while polymer (plastic) implants lack osseointegration (the integration of the implant with native bone), and are prone to infection.
Meanwhile, human bones are made from 60-70% bone mineral, 10-20% water, and proteins and inorganic salts. Great progress is being made to develop functional and effective implants made from the natural minerals found in native human bone. That is, bioceramic materials such as tricalcium phosphate and hydroxyapatite. This means that more patients could receive an implant that can become a natural part of his or her body, as the implant will remodel and integrate with native tissue.
Notably, Particle3D’s initial pre-clinical trials in mice models demonstrated that the natural tricalcium phosphate implants not only fused with native tissue after eight weeks, but also developed new bone, bone marrow, and blood vessels within the implant. In consequence, using the unique power of the body to regenerate itself, the scaffold, which offers a natural material and porosity, allows your own cells to transform the implant into living bone.
Combining 3D modeling, 3D printing, and biomaterials
Moreover, advances in medical 3D modeling and 3D printing allow surgeons to provide implants that are tailored to the individual with their patient’s uniqueness in mind. By combining a patient’s CT scan with 3D modeling and 3D printing, we can now effectively produce patient specific implants.
Furthermore, combining the 3D printing technology with biomaterials open for the creation of even more natural bone implants. The use of 3D modeling and 3D printing, with biomaterials allow us to create implants that that precisely matches patient needs in terms of both material, shape, and structure.
As the world’s population is getting older and an increasing number of people are suffering from bone diseases such as osteoporosis, it is critical that surgeons can provide implants that last as long as we do. Luckily, with these important technological advances, the medical industry is able to give surgeons the right tools to change patients’ lives and give them back their identity.