Researchers at the Indian Institute of Technology Madras (IIT Madras), Chennai, have developed additively manufactured face implants for patients suffering from mucormycosis, also known as black fungus. This condition has been reported in COVID-19 patients, as well as those with uncontrolled diabetes, HIV/AIDS, and other medical conditions. To date, around fifty implants have been provided to patients from economically disadvantaged sections.
The institute has collaborated with ZorioX Innovation Labs, a Chennai-based start-up founded by dental surgeons, to implement this initiative centred around metal Additive Manufacturing.
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The outbreak of black fungus disease has caused great concern in India; thus far, reports suggest that about 60,000 mucormycosis cases have been registered in India post-COVID. In severe cases, the fungus responsible for mucormycosis can cause patients to lose their nose, eyes, or even their entire face. Furthermore, the loss of vital organs can affect a patient’s ability to breathe, eat, and communicate, thereby making it difficult to perform everyday activities. These profound results can impact the patient’s mental and emotional well-being, making facial reconstruction a necessity.
These procedures involve the reconstruction of facial structures using a variety of techniques, such as skin grafts, tissue expansion, and microvascular surgery. These procedures can help restore the patient’s appearance and functionality, allowing them to lead a more normal life. However, the high cost of patient-specific implants and procedures often makes them inaccessible for many people.
Dr Murugaiyan Amirthalingam, Associate Professor, Department of Metallurgical and Materials Engineering, IIT Madras, shared, “Additive Manufacturing (3D printing) has already emerged as a viable and cost effective, net shape manufacturing process for low volume production of complex body implants with specific custom-made designs. Extensive research activities are already being carried out in IIT Madras to commercialise this technology for printing patient-specific implants in stainless steel, Ti-6Al-4V and Co-Cr-Mo alloys.”
Amirthalingam added, “Using unique in-house algorithms, a patient’s MRI/CT data is converted to printable CAD format and custom implants are printed from medical-grade titanium using an indigenously-built laser powder bed facility in IIT Madras. This #Right2Face initiative aims to help poor and needy patients with patient-specific custom maxillofacial implants to treat black fungus patients.”
The team at IIT Madras can manufacture implants that precisely match each patient’s face using patient-specific CT data to design the perfect implant for each individual. Currently, IIT Madras is identifying patients who cannot afford expensive imported implants and providing these implants to them free of cost as part of a campaign called #Right2Face.
Dr Karthik Balaji, CEO, ZorioX Innovation labs, stated, “Post-COVID, there has been an increase in number of black fungus cases. To save the lives of the patient, a lot of facial bones had to be removed. These patients are mostly breadwinners of the family and are now confined within four walls because of their facial deformity. #Right2face movement is aimed to help these needy patients in association with the oral and maxillofacial surgeons to restore the faces and give them back their smile.”
Zoriox Innovation Labs, which has a partnership with IIT Madras, handles part of the surgical procedures, while IIT Madras is responsible for the design and Additive Manufacturing. The implants are made from medical-grade titanium, a material commonly used in reconstructive procedures.