Wow of the Week: Skull implant produced with 3-D printing technology could shake up orthopedics industry

The 3-D printing technology hits just keep on coming. Everyone and their brother seems to be testing the capabilities of 3-D printers for medical applications creating artificial ears, vaccines, feet and hearts. But a skull produced with a 3-D printer cleared by the US Food and Drug Administration just last month was used in a […]

The 3-D printing technology hits just keep on coming. Everyone and their brother seems to be testing the capabilities of 3-D printers for medical applications creating artificial ears, vaccines, feet and hearts. But a skull produced with a 3-D printer cleared by the US Food and Drug Administration just last month was used in a surgical procedure to replace 75 percent of a man’s skull earlier this month. And that technology has the potential to transform the orthopedics industry.

At least that’s what Oxford Performance Materials, the company that developed the skull to replace bone damaged by disease or trauma, believes. It calls the FDA approved device the OsteoFab Patient Specific Cranial Device.

The skulls are produced layer by layer directly from a digital CAD file without the aid of tooling, according to a company statement. So this surgery performed on March 4, and  for which details are scarce, was an ideal fit for the company that envisions its 3-D printer generated skulls for cranial implants in which each skull can be customized for each patient’s anatomy.

The skull is made of polyetherketoneketone or PEKK, a high performance polymer used in biomedical implants because it is biocompatible and mechanically similar to bone. It also does not to interfere with X-ray equipment.

For the company, based in South Windsor, Connecticut near Hartford, skull implants are “just the beginning.”

“We will now move systematically throughout the body in an effort to deliver improved outcomes at lower overall cost to the patient and healthcare provider,” the statement said.

Oxford Performance believes the technology will transform orthopedics. “[It] is a highly transformative and disruptive technology platform that will substantially impact all sectors of the orthopedic industry.”

In an interview with TechNews, Oxford Performance President Scott DeFelice said he estimated that 300 to 500 U.S. patients could use skull bone replacements each month. And it is already submitting other 3-D printer generated bone implants for FDA review.

“If you can replace a bony void in someone’s head next to the brain, you have a pretty good platform for filling bony voids elsewhere,” he said.

[Featured photo Thermal image of the human skull from BigStock Photo]