Auburn University researchers from multiple disciplines are converging to reshape biomedical implants and orthotics by using additive manufacturing, also known as 3-D printing, to create these life-changing products.
The research launched with support from the university’s new Presidential Awards for Interdisciplinary Research, or PAIR, a $5 million program created by Auburn University President Steven Leath.
The research team will receive $1.3 million over three years to create an optimal experience for patients requiring neuromuscular and skeletal implants and orthotics. With 3-D technology, devices are custom-made to conform to each patient’s unique injury and physiology, said Nima Shamsaei, director of the National Center for Additive Manufacturing Excellence, or NCAME, at Auburn’s Samuel Ginn College of Engineering.
Biomedical devices created by additive manufacturing will significantly increase efficiency and customization while decreasing cost, said Shamsaei, who leads the research. In traditional procedures, the surgeon works with a standard implant or orthotic with minimal opportunity for modification. Researchers hope to turn that model on its head.
"With this method, we can scan patient anatomy, get all the information in order to design and print the part and send it to the operating room," Shamsaei said. Employing this technology, the physician will receive an implant or orthotic that is intricately catered to the patient awaiting it.
In addition, additive-manufactured biomedical devices will cut production time substantially.
The PAIR funding will give the ongoing research a tremendous boost, said Scott Thompson, associate professor of mechanical engineering who specializes in additive manufacturing.
"It’s going to allow us to procure some very critical equipment to make our in-house capabilities stronger," Thompson said. "It’s also going to fund six graduate students and bring together 15 faculty members from across campus, including researchers from the business school, veterinary sciences, engineering and pharmacy."
In the College of Veterinary Medicine, there is a potential for 3-D-printed orthotics to aid the in the care of horses, and additive-manufactured implants can be used in surgeries involving small animals, including cats and dogs. The Harrison School of Pharmacy’s research efforts have yielded implants with the capacity to provide drug delivery, resulting in on-the-spot pain relief and infection prevention for patients. Researchers from the Harbert College of Business are exploring the entrepreneurial front, outlining start-up companies that are focused on this specialty that will involve future Auburn graduates.
"Our goal over the next three years is to prove the concept and to show the possibility of using this technology in a wider way for the biomedical industry," Shamsaei said. "We expect this project to bring us to the forefront of additive manufacturing research for biomedical applications."