3D-printed titanium hips can 'trick' real bones into working for longer

An engineering professor has designed a new type of 3D-printed titanium hip replacement that can trick living bone into working for longer.

Damiano Pasini, from McGill University in Montreal, has been working on the implants for more than six years. His design works by fooling the host bone in the hip into remaining alive by mimicking the “varying porosity of real bones”.

The implant is called a femoral stem and connects the femur with an artificial hip joint.

“What we’ve done throughout the femoral stem is to replicate the gradations of density found in a real femur by using hollowed-out tetrahedra,” Prof Pasini says.

“Despite the fact that there are spaces within the tetrahedra, these forms are incredibly strong and rigid so they’re a very efficient way of carrying a load. Just think of the lattice-work in the legs of the Tour Eiffel.”

He added that because the implant mimicked the cellular structure of the femur it could fool the bone into working for longer. It means his implant “avoids many of the problems associated with those in current use”.

The problem for many implants is that owing to their rigid structure they tend to absorb more stress than would naturally occur in the femur. Without this stress to stimulate cell formation, the living femur can begin to deteriorate. This can lead to pain around some implants and the eventual need to have them replaced because there isn’t enough strong bone around an implant to keep it in place.

The team at McGill says its design is compatible with current surgical procedures and could easily be adopted by surgeons in the future.

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