British chemical company Johnson Matthey has identified the potential of 3D printing with precious metals for medical applications. As part of consortium the company use 3D printing to create anti-bacterial prosthesis.
Together with researchers at University of Birmingham, the consortium is funded by the UK’s Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC).
While most 3D printed prosthesis carry little risks of infection, implants – by their nature – pose a greater risk. Addressing this, the researchers are developing specific 3D printing techniques and surface materials to reduce the possibility of infection.
3D printing is particularly applicable in the creation of implants as the designs can be customized to the patient and its specific purpose. As shown in the case of an Australian woman’s jaw reconstruction using a titanium 3D printed implant. However, more frequently 3D printing is selected to make implants because of the improved functionality. For example, several studies have show that bone ingrowth is enhanced by using 3D printed hip actuator cups with a surface purposefully designed to promote such desirable traits.
The University of Birmingham’s research project will begin by exploring cranial implants as the university’s professor Liam Grover explains,
Obviously, if you have an infection near the brain, it can be really dangerous. We think we can have a significant impact into reducing infection in this particular class of patients.
As part of the consortium, Johnson Matthey is investigating 3D printing precious metals, currently embedding silver into the 3D printing process. Producing cranial implants in hospitals often involves use of a titanium sheet molded around a 3D printed implant. This is then sterilised to reduce the risk of infection but the research team believe this can be further eradicated with the use of anti-bacterial silver.
Japanese company SIJTechnology has showcased the possibilities of 3D printing silver in the development of its desktop electronics 3D printer. The company is able to print at room temperature by working with silver nanoparticles which have a much reduced melting point.
Johnson Matthey’s Samantha O’Callaghan is speaking at this week’s International Additive Manufacturing and 3D printing conference in Nottingham. O’Callaghen will present Johnson Matthey’s latest advancements using binder jet printing in the creation of ceramics.
Featured image shows the intricate designs of additive manufactured metal. Image via Johnson Matthey.