People with facial injuries involving eye socket damage routinely require cheekbone implants, often made of silicone. IHBI researchers are working on a 3D-printed replacement that overcomes the risk of rupture or misalignment.
Assaults and car accidents are the most common causes of eye socket fractures—called orbital fractures—and together account for up to 70 per cent of all facial fractures.
Silicone implants are used to restore aesthetic appearance in such cases, as well as following tumour excisions for cancer therapies. Subsequent ruptures or misalignment may result in a secondary operation. Silicone implants also come with a risk of a negative foreign body response.
IHBI’s Dr Marie-Luise Wille is leading the development of a 3D-printed implant—called a scaffold—that will improve a patient’s experience, enable a surgeon to provide a tailored approach and avoid re-operation.
‘Orbital fractures may differ in their presentation when patients are admitted to hospital and in their clinical management, necessitating a patient-specific approach,’ Dr Wille says.
‘We are looking to make regenerative, resorbable scaffolds that are as clinician-friendly as possible. Surgeons tend to prefer a product which can be cut or moulded to shape in the operating theatre.’
The scaffolds are made using a medical grade biocompatible polymer, already used in the clinic for more than 20 years, and populated with a patient’s own cells that encourage the body to regenerate damaged tissue.
As the patient’s tissue grows, the scaffold provides a support matrix and is then slowly and safely absorbed.
Dr Wille says the patient-specific approach that is at the core of the new generation of orbital fracture treatment brings challenges for the research team.
‘We will develop a novel 3D printer for this purpose, which does not have a flat print bed and is able to print curved surfaces on all sides. Further, we will design and test the implants. IHBI is unique in providing facilities where the implant can be printed, mechanically tested and research involving actual human tissue can be performed.’
Additional challenges include ensuring the implant is fit for purpose, aligns with established surgical techniques and meets regulatory requirements.
Collaborators on the research include Chief Technology Officer Dr Mohit Chhaya, Head of Design Sara Lucarotti and Head of Research and Development Dr Navid Khani from medical technology manufacturer BellaSeno in Germany, with expertise in biomedical engineering and additive manufacturing technologies.
Dr Wille is the Deputy Director of the Australian Research Council (ARC) Training Centre for Multiscale 3D Imaging, Modelling and Manufacturing, working with researchers from around QUT and the Australian National University.
The centre has been established with $3.98 million in Federal Government funding, with research, industry and clinical collaborators in Canada, Germany, Norway and the US.
Among the IHBI researchers are Distinguished Professor Dietmar W Hutmacher, with expertise in biomaterials, biomechanics, medical devices and tissue engineering, and Professor Prasad Yarlagadda, with expertise in artificial intelligence in manufacturing, prototype manufacturing, tool design and non-traditional manufacturing.
Dr Wille says the centre’s research has application in industries as diverse as oil, gas and energy, medical technologies, and advanced manufacturing.
The centre aims to produce industry-ready graduates and early career researchers with innovative, translational and entrepreneurial mindsets to underpin growth in the industry sector.
PhD candidates and post-doctoral researchers will be given an opportunity to participate in professional development programs such as BridgeTech, training researchers and entrepreneurs to effectively navigate the medical technology commercialisation pathway.
IHBI’s Dr Marie-Luise Wille