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Novel Smart Implants to Continuously Monitor and Actively Promote Bone Healing

By HospiMedica International staff writers
Posted on 29 Mar 2024
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Image: The artificial muscles can help fractured leg bones heal better (Photo courtesy of Saarland University)
Image: The artificial muscles can help fractured leg bones heal better (Photo courtesy of Saarland University)

Bones possess a unique blend of stability and elasticity; they not only grow and renew themselves but are also designed to endure substantial force. In cases where a bone fractures, healing can occur if the pieces are correctly aligned. However, complications may arise, particularly in lower leg fractures, which fail to heal properly in approximately 14 out of every 100 instances. After surgery, monitoring the healing process internally is not feasible until an X-ray provides the first view weeks later, potentially revealing inadequate bone tissue growth. Such scenarios can lead to pain, inability to work, and significant costs. Now, a new type of orthopedic implant can continuously monitor the fracture repair process and actively facilitate bone healing.

An interdisciplinary team of medical specialists, engineers, and computer scientists at Saarland University (Saarbrücken, Germany) has developed smart implants that can continuously monitor and actively promote bone healing, such as by micro-massaging the fracture site. These orthopedic implants are not ordinary fixation plates used for stabilizing fractures; they are equipped with innovative 'artificial muscles' made from shape memory wires, allowing for the control of the healing process through a smartphone. The smart implants start transmitting data on the healing progress immediately after surgery without the need for further procedures or equipment. It also alerts the patient if excessive pressure is applied to the healing fracture.

These implants, once positioned, autonomously promote healing. At the fracture gap, where the bone fragments have been realigned with each other, they can adjust their rigidity or even perform subtle movements to 'micro-massage' the area, thereby enhancing healing by stimulating bone growth. These actions can be fully automated and managed via a smartphone while its powerful battery can be charged remotely through wireless induction, ensuring a seamless and innovative approach to managing and enhancing the bone healing process.

“We're developing a smart implant that does not require any additional surgical intervention or additional equipment. An orthopedic implant is typically a passive fixation plate that is used to set and stabilize the fractured bone. But we can now give it completely new capabilities,” explained Professor Stefan Seelecke, who heads research groups at Saarland University.

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