Every year, around a million people worldwide undergo a hip replacement operation and most patients experience significant relief from pain and improved quality of life from the procedure.
Half of all these surgeries take place in the US and — despite the country’s modern health care system — in around 8 percent of cases the initial surgery fails, often because of an infection. Patients then have to undergo surgery to remove and replace the implant, but that tends to have a much lower chance of a successful outcome.
Now, an experimental technology that combines 3D printing with state-of-the-art tissue engineering promises to improve the success rate of these secondary surgeries, and keep patients on their feet. Once a synthetic hip fails, the patient undergoes a “revision” surgery which involves the complete removal of the ball-and-socket prosthesis and another procedure, known as an osteotomy, to remove the infected bone.
The removal of that bone is what reduces the chances of a second implant working out, so a few years ago doctors started implanting a temporary ‘spacer’ — made of bone cement laced with antibiotics — to resolve infections without needing to remove so much bone tissue. Patients are able to move about with the aid of a walker or wheelchair while the spacer does its work and eradicates the infection. … (read more)