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
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
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
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