Smart material technology helps repair skeletal malformations

24 April 2009

Innovative technology developed in co-operation between the Electronics Department of the Helsinki University of Technology (TKK) and the Orton Invalid Foundation is a significant step in the repair of skeletal malformations.

The technology has been developed for limb lengthening treatment, but it can be more widely applied to the repair of skeletal malformations.

The research group's Synoste team was awarded third place in the Venture Cup business plan competition, the best known business plan competition in Finland.

In traditional bone stretching treatments, the bone is stretched using a frame on the outside of the limb. This is painful and nearly always leads to infection of the puncture root and formation of large scars. Other complications are a decrease in the area of movement of the limb and fractures in the new bone. After care adds significantly to the costs of treatment.

By using Synoste's completely implantable limb lengthening device, these problems are avoided. The device is based on bone marrow nailing, which is usually used in orthopaedics. A bone marrow nail is placed in the long bone of an artificially fractured limb and slowly extended. Through the bone's normal healing mechanisms, new bone grows in the fracture cleft and thus the bone lengthens.

"The nail does not contain electronics; rather its operation is based on achieving lengthening by the innovative use of a smart material that reacts to a magnetic field. The benefits of the technology are a high degree of reliability, controllability, cost-efficiency and patient friendliness", says researcher Antti Ritvanen in describing the technology developed by the group.

"Four times per day, the patient places his foot on an automatic home care device that produces a magnetic field, at which time a daily stretching of about one millimetre is divided into smaller steps. Lengthening can be carried out painlessly at home, even while lounging on the sofa, and only takes a few minutes of the day", continues researcher Juha Haaja.

The TKK research group, made up of bioadaptive technology students Harri Hallila, Antti Ritvanen and Juha Haaja, is also developing technology that can be applied to the treatment of children's scoliosis and deformities in the area of the face and skull. In this, Orton's Medical Director Dietrich Schlenzka and the surgeons of Helsinki University Central Hospital's Cleft Lip and Palate Centre have played a significant role.

The Synoste group also received an award in the business idea stage of the Venture Cup in autumn 2007. At that time the idea was considered to be "science fiction", but the technology has been shown to work and it is today without comparison.

"The technology has significant marketing potential, but, of course, there is still some journey from the proto stage to a product. However, if everything goes as well as it has done until now, clinical tests will begin as soon as 2010", remarks Harri Hallila, pondering on Synoste's future.

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