An orthopedic research centre that grew out of Concordia Hospital's significant investment in hip and knee surgical facilities is making its mark in the high-tech world of joint implants.

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An orthopedic research centre that grew out of Concordia Hospital's significant investment in hip and knee surgical facilities is making its mark in the high-tech world of joint implants.

Recently, the Orthopaedic Innovation Centre, in partnership with one of the world's largest 3D printer manufacturers, filed a patent for the design of novel antibiotics-infused joint implants.

Martin Petrak, CEO of the OIC, said while it's just in the patent-application stage, the intention is to form a spinoff company to continue the research that would be necessary to prove the efficacy of the technology and to eventually commercialize it.

It's exactly the kind of development that was envisioned when the OIC was formed by the Concordia Foundation less than five years ago, after it received $5 million in funding from the federal and provincial governments.

Its mandate was to evaluate and create new orthopedic technologies while supporting Concordia's newly established Hip and Knee Institute.

After building up its presence for about four years, the OIC is now emerging as another source of new world-class technologies in the province with potential for commercialization.

As a non-profit institute, it is already self-sustaining with a variety of revenue-generating research and service projects. Part of its mandate is to come up with new technologies that could be spun out into private sector startups.

"It will require a lot of investment to bring devices like this to market," Petrak said. "As a not-for-profit, it is not our jurisdiction to do that. What we do is incubate new companies and then attract foreign investment or private investment locally to develop and commercialize products through new startups."

Les Janzen, the chief operating officer of the Concordia Foundation, said the OIC is doing what it was envisioned to do and its developments are very encouraging.

"The Concordia Foundation is delighted to be a supportive collaborator in OIC's visionary work on behalf of our patients," Janzen said.

The recent publicly disclosed patent application describes combining antibiotics and/or bone-growth-promoting compositions into the special materials used to make the implants deploying 3D printing technology.

Petrak said there is a trend in the orthopedic field around materials development and new medical devices being developed by 3D printing. There is also lots of work being done to figure out how to fight post-implant infections, which can be catastrophic to the patient, requiring complicated surgery.

"I thought if we could combine antibiotics with new materials maybe it would be possible to create a device shaped in any geometry we wanted and then we could offer a direct antibiotic release system for the patients," he said.

There is still much work left before the technology would be tested, but OIC's partner, 3D printer manufacturer Stratasys Ltd. is enthusiastic about the prospects.

Jim Orrock, vice-president of materials development with Stratasys in Eden Prairie, Minn., said they have been working with OIC for more than two years, and early testing shows this might work.

"To the best of our knowledge, the use of a drug-eluting material with a 3D printing process is novel, and we hope that many will benefit from this capability in the future," Orrock said.

Stratasys is enjoying rapid growth in the use of 3D printing -- its first-quarter sales this year were up more than 50 per cent to $150 million -- and it has noticed the high level of niche expertise being developed at OIC.

"OIC has brought great value to these conversations, including creative thinking about how to exploit the design freedom of 3D printing for orthopedic and other medical applications," Orrock said.

It's not all about 3D printing.

The OIC helped form a national radio stereometric analysis (RSA) network, which is a specialized X-ray device that monitors the functionality of joint implants. It also has built one of the country's only repositories -- and a growing data bank -- on implants that have had to be extracted for various reasons.

Earlier this year, it formed the OIC Precision Labs to offer the same expertise and technologies to non-medical sectors such as the aerospace, manufacturing, utilities and mining industries.

Dale Kellington, the OIC's director of sales and marketing, said the type of services and equipment OIC has, such as super-accurate measuring devices, mesh well with the needs of the aerospace sector.

"We think there is a good opportunity here," Kellington said. "We're just six months in, but the uptake has been very encouraging."

Martin Cash

Martin Cash

Martin Cash has been writing a column and business news at the Free Press since 1989. Over those years he’s written through a number of business cycles and the rise and fall (and rise) in fortunes of many local businesses.