By: 21 December 2023
fingerIMPLANT: Finger prosthesis from the 3D printer

Tailoring finger bones or joint implants after amputation was the aim of a transnational research project.

The project was coordinated by the MATERIALS Institute at JOANNEUM RESEARCH, which contributed its expertise in 3D printing and surface treatment.

Losing a finger – for example, in an accident – can severely limit a person’s ability to grip and grasp objects. Around 15,000 people are affected each year in the European Union alone. High-tech finger implants can help. As part of the fingerIMPLANT project, funded by the M-ERA.NET consortium (European Research Area Network in the field of production and metal), Polish-Austrian research and business partners have set themselves the goal of developing customised finger bone and joint implants for those affected and creating the conditions for future nerve transplants for sensory perception.

3D-printing and plasma coating at JOANNEUM RESEARCH MATERIALS in Austria

The research project was coordinated by MATERIALS, the Austrian Institute for Sensors, Photonics and Manufacturing Technologies at JOANNEUM RESEARCH. Reinhard Kaindl’s team developed a demonstrator for the implant system, which was manufactured using a 3D printing process from a highly elastic alloy of titanium, aluminium, vanadium and wear-resistant ceramics at the MATERIALS site in Niklasdorf and at the company’s partner Lithoz in Vienna. The institute also contributed its expertise in surface treatment to the project. For example, a coating of the mineral hydroxyapatite – a major component of our bones and teeth – is antimicrobial and enables the implant to grow into the bone. Hydroxyapatite powder is injected through a nozzle into hot, ionised gas and sprayed onto the substrate to be coated. As the name suggests, this is done at atmospheric pressure, eliminating the need for a vacuum chamber. This technology also leads to improved healing of titanium implants, which are conventionally made by turning and milling.

In the course of the project, a surgical instrument was also developed by the Polish surgical instrument manufacturer CHIRMED. The scientific results of the project have been used in publications and presented at conferences and trade fairs. The medium-term goal at the end of the project is to obtain clinical approval for the implant system, including the instruments, and to establish it on the market.

Austrian Partner: INOCON Technologie GmbH, Lithoz GmbH, Medical University Graz
Partner from Poland: CHIRMED – Polish producer of surgical and dental instruments, Institute of Metallurgy and Materials Science of the Polish Academy of Sciences
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Image credit: iStock/sanjagrujic