3D printing, robotic surgery to create custom implants for bone cancer patients in Australian research project

Photo credit: Innovative Manufacturing Cooperative Research Centre

A new Australian research project aims to transform the way physicians surgically treat tumours and bone cancer, and dramatically improve patient and healthcare outcomes. The five-year project, “Just in time implants”, brings together the Australian Government, RMIT University, the University of Technology Sydney (UTS), St Vincent’s Hospital Melbourne and global medical technology firm Stryker.

Lead researcher, RMIT’s Professor Milan Brandt, and the project team will combine 3D printing, robotic surgery and advanced manufacturing to create tailored implants for patients with bone cancer. While patients are having their cancer removed in the operating theatre, in the next room, a custom implant will be printed to precisely fill the space left after removal of the diseased bone.

“Our aim is to bring the technology to the theatre,” Professor Brandt said.

The AU$12.1 million research effort is funded by Stryker, with co-funding from the Innovative Manufacturing Cooperative Research Centre (IMCRC), under the Australian Governments' Department of Industry, Innovation and Science, which is contributing AU$2.36 million in cash.

St Vincent’s Hospital’s Professor Peter Choong said just in time implants will transform the delivery of care for people with bone cancer. “By combining specialised imaging techniques, 3D printing and the accuracy of robotic assisted surgery, we are aiming to deliver a personalised implant in time for the surgeon to remove the cancer and repair the patient’s bone in the one operation,” Choong said. “This process will expand the surgical options available to patients and surgeons and increase the potential for limb saving surgery.”

The novel process represents a major shift in the way implants are designed, manufactured and supplied and could lead to bespoke local manufacturing.

David Chuter, IMCRC CEO and Managing Director said that the project was a great example of how research-led innovation in manufacturing drives better products, services and processes.

“This is a significant research investment into Australia by Stryker – seeing a global organisation collaborating with two Australian universities and a local hospital. It highlights how Australia’s medtech environment offers research partners a unique setting for innovative research programs,” said Mr. Chuter.

“Specifically, this project will establish advanced manufacturing capabilities that will ensure competitive advantage domestically and internationally. It will also train a new generation of engineers and researchers in medical robotics and the additive manufacturing of medical implants,” he added.

Professor Emmanuel Josserand, Director of the Centre for Business and Social Innovation at UTS, said the project would also have a wider impact for business and the economy, as Australia transitions from traditional to advanced manufacturing.

“Not only will there be direct business opportunities for Australian companies to become medical suppliers to Stryker, with its global supply chains, but there will also be an opportunity for the technologies and manufacturing know-how developed within this project to transfer over time to other local industries,” Professor Josserand said.

“These sorts of advanced manufacturing capabilities will ensure competitive advantage for Australian businesses, domestically and internationally.”

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