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Can smart biomaterials open up possibilities for patient-specific treatment? – Medical Plastics News

2 November 2023
16:30
Evonik industries discusses smart biomaterials based on PEEK and how they open up possibilities for patient-specific treatment.
Among the many developments in today’s medical technology, three very exciting areas are offering a wide range of growth and potential in the polyether ether ketone (PEEK) biomaterials field: the need for more patient-specific and point of care treatment, digitalisation and robotics, and metal-free solutions.   
“Improved, patient-specific treatment at point of care is true reality. For example, it is already possible today to integrate bioactive additives with biomaterials, giving 3D printed implants a range of characteristics that promote faster bone-healing and thus better patient recovery,” said Marc Knebel, head of Evonik’s Medical Systems market segment. “Besides additive manufacturing of individual implants, patient-specific treatment also means to offer material solutions for people’s different natures. In this regard, metal-free solutions like polymer-based medical devices are in demand.”  
The use of easy-to-handle implant grade, 3D printable PEEK filaments – such as VESTAKEEP i4 3DF – in combination with suitable dedicated medical printers and the integration hardware and software in digital workflows, has led to a positively disruptive step towards point of care treatment: Such a combination of material and technology allows implants to be created directly in the hospital. Having been first achieved with VESTAKEEP i4 3DF at Skåne University Hospital, a Swedish hospital, in 2021, the potential benefits of 3D printing smart biomaterials on-site has become limitless.  
Another breakthrough in patient-specific care with smart biomaterials is the use of the VESTAKEEP i4 3DF filament early in 2023, in the first US surgeries of a 3D printed spinal implant. Printed by US-based technology company, Curiteva, the high-tech implant was cleared by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and was the world’s first 3D-printed, fully interconnected porous PEEK-implanted structure of its kind for commercial use. 
Recently, the first patient at the University Hospital Basel received a 3D-printed implant based on Evonik’s PEEK filament from in-house production. A 46-year-old man suffered a stroke in 2019. During treatment, his skullcap was removed and replaced. But after a few months, the ceiling began to disintegrate, and the skull sank in. A team led by Raphael Guzman, head of neurosurgery, and Florian Thieringer, head of oral and maxillofacial surgery, succeeded in producing an artificial skullcap in the in-house 3D printer.  
For certain medical procedures, the ability for bone cells to adhere to implants, also known as osteoconductivity, is critical for good patient recovery. Specific ceramics and porous metals are traditional materials used for this purpose. Key to success is a material’s ability to be formed to mimic bone structure and chemistry.  
Smart biomaterials combine multiple features in one material. The most prominent feature of VESTAKEEP Fusion smart biomaterials is its inclusion of a special additive – biphasic calcium phosphate (BCP). BCP can positively influence osteointegration with the body’s existing natural bone. As a result, bone fusion is promoted, leading to accelerated patient recovery.  
As the global needs in the medical industry continue towards more customisation, digitalised and metalfree solutions, the range of possibilities in high-tech medical plastics is boundless. This goes beyond human implants. In its future-oriented strategy for smart PEEK biomaterials, Evonik is also exploring uses for joint prostheses in veterinary as well as in human implants. Continued research and development in joint implants aims to reduce the need for revision surgery and long-term pain therapy.  
Among other developments to come, Evonik is working on a carbon-fibre reinforced PEEK-based filament, which will come in different options that allow more customisation towards the strength and flex requirements of the implant to be 3D printed.  
In the future, as medical industry needs grow, PEEK-based biomaterials will continue to be a boon for medical plastics manufacturers operating in this exciting, high-growth field. 
2 November 2023
16:30

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