Imagine you’re in need of a hip replacement — and your surgeon had the ability to turn a CT scan of your hip joint into a custom, 3-D printed implant. Your new hip bone would be made from strong, biocompatible materials, like titanium, and designed to mimic the lattice structure inside natural bone. The implant would encourage bone regrowth and have a small electric charge to resist infection. 

According to Amy Neidhard-Doll, a biomedical engineer at the University of Dayton, all of those things may be possible within the next 10 years. At the University, a unique set of resources have come together to advance research on additively manufactured medical devices like hip implants.

Over the summer, Neidhard-Doll partnered with Dathan Erdahl and the University of Dayton Research Institute’s (UDRI) nondestructive evaluation group to pilot the printing of personalized implants.

UDRI has considerable expertise in additive manufacturing and the testing of finished parts, mostly for military applications. Erdahl’s group has built a 3-D printing platform — the DART SLM — that uses open source software, allowing researchers to customize the printer’s use of materials and printing capabilities using a variety of sensors.

“UDRI’s expertise and printing platform lend themselves perfectly to expanding into biomedical research,” Neidhard-Doll said. “They were interested in partnering with the School of Engineering to bring someone with a biomedical background into the mix.”

In addition to her interest in capitalizing on newly developed UDRI technologies, Neidhard-Doll wanted to engage student researchers. Monica Yeager, a senior electrical engineering major, spent the summer writing image processing code to stitch patient CT image slices back together to create a 3-D model of a hip implant. The model was then 3-D printed as a prototype. 

What’s next? UD researchers will seek FDA approval of the DART SLM machine, which is required before human testing of medical devices will be allowed. They will also begin tests using biocompatible metals like titanium. Future data will focus on how best to utilize the metal’s strength while minimizing weight and potential combustion.