Natalia Nuño: Extending the Lifespan of Implants Through 3D Printing

Whether they are used for a knee or a hip, implants have a limited lifespan. As patients get younger and younger, implants need to be replaced more frequently, which creates its own share of concerns with each surgery. Natalia Nuño, biomechanics professor in the Department of Automated Manufacturing Engineering, is working to prolong the lifespan of prosthetics.

Why Do Implants Have Such a Short Lifespan?

It’s not the prosthetic itself, but the area around it. The bone to which the implant is attached is resorbed little by little and loses its vitality. Over time, the implant becomes detached.

Although implants can increase quality of life significantly, the issue is now to extend their lifespan. The avenue that Professor Nuño is studying ways to make more flexible materials using 3D printing, also known as “additive manufacturing.”

Additive Manufacturing at the Core of Research for New Prosthetics

Although titanium has made great advances, it is still 10 times more rigid than bone and is therefore not an ideal solution. However, additive manufacturing offers great promise.

This approach allows for a great deal of freedom in terms of the shape of implants and the choice of materials. Implants can be manufactured using more porous and flexible materials that are also more lightweight.

Developing Adjustable Implants for the Spine and Joints

Current treatments are particularly ill suited to the specific needs of growing children. The possibilities of additive manufacturing are the main focus of one area of research for Professor Nuño, namely implants intended for use in the spine and other joints.

The researcher hopes to use digital simulation to develop adjustable implants that can adapt as the child grows. More specifically, she is working on predicting the behaviour of implants using the finite elements method and data obtained through medical imaging.