How PEEK polymer is gathering momentum for trauma implants

Research projects presented at the International PEEK Meeting in Washington, DC, highlighted the increasing adoption of PEEK implants in clinical practice as well as the potential benefits to patients.

The potential of carbon fibre-reinforced PEEK (CFR-PEEK) plates for fracture fixation featured; additive manufacturing was also revealed as making progress in the production of PEEK polymer-based implants.

Topics ranging from dental, knee, spinal, and trauma implants to advances in additive manufacturing, or medical PEEK performance in general, demonstrated the scope of current research in PEEK technology and clinical applications.

More than 40 abstracts were shared along with invited talks focusing on medical implantable PEEK to attendees from the FDA, industry, academia and research hospitals – supporting the growing relevance and necessity for the International PEEK Meeting.

CFR-PEEK composites: improving postoperative assessments

During the meeting potential of CFR-PEEK composite plates for fracture fixation became clear, in particular for their high fatigue strength and a favourable modulus of elasticity.

“The potential benefits of a less stiff construct on healing are hugely attractive and the results from some early clinical comparative work with metals, which will be released in October, will only increase the interest in these materials,” said John Devine, medical business director at Invibio Biomaterial Solutions.

One study assessed the mechanical stability of locking screws used in CFR-PEEK proximal humerus plates compared with those used in stainless steel plates. The results indicate that CFR-PEEK proximal humerus locking plates provide comparable or superior locking screw fixation strength compared to traditional stainless-steel locking plates. Plus, CFR-PEEK plates tolerated at least an equivalent, and in some sections of the plate, a significantly greater load before failure, when compared to traditional stainless-steel locking proximal humerus plates.

"A wealth of research and clinical experience is confirming that PEEK polymer-based implants have an established position due to potential patient benefits and, what is more, they still offer immense development possibilities," commented Steve Kurtz, Implant Research Center, Drexel University and conference organiser.

"While additive manufacturing in medical is in its infancy, we think it could revolutionise the ease, speed and accuracy with which implants are manufactured.”

Medical potential for additive manufacturing in medical

Additive manufacturing can deliver patient customised implants (PCI) and enables direct linkage to digital patient models that may change the face of pre-operative planning and surgery.

3D printing specialist Apium Additive Technologies, for example, is offering a commercially available 3D printer that is capable of processing PEEK. The model P155 uses Apium´s innovative patent-pending Fused Filament Fabrication (FFF) 3D printing technology.

Researchers at Drexel University have used the Apium machine to print intervertebral lumbar cages with experimental PEEK-filaments. Although both compressive and compressive-shear performance still need improvement, the researchers are working on that, as future additive technology has the potential to match the performance characteristics of machined cages.

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