A West Virginia University student has been named a top 10 finalist in Stratasys’ 2016 Extreme Redesign 3D Printing Challenge for his innovative 3D Bone Fixation System.

Zachary Stevens first came to WVU as a biology student in 2004 with the dream of becoming a surgeon. When he realized that wasn’t in the cards, Stevens applied to the School of Dentistry Stevens’ mother and grandfather, legendary WVU sports announcer Frank ‘Doc’ Stevens, both had degrees in the field. Waitlisted but not defeated, Stevens went into exercise physiology.

During his first year, Stevens was diagnosed with thyroid cancer and was forced to withdraw to complete treatments. In remission, Stevens struggled with what to do next. He came back to school, but just didn’t feel dentistry was the right fit.

With a biology degree, exercise physiology credits and personal experience with the healthcare industry under his belt, Stevens started a career in medical sales. Working in northern West Virginia and southwestern Pennsylvania, Stevens was selling bone fixation systems when he realized he could design something better.

“What I saw in the field was a set of plates and screws that were one-size-fits-all solutions that involved multiple incisions,” said Stevens, a Charleston native. “I knew there was a way to make plates designed for the individual.”

Stevens enrolled in the Statler College of Engineering and Mineral Resources with the goal of creating his version of a bone fixation system.

Now a senior mechanical engineering major, Stevens’ design uses 3D imaging, like CAT scans, to create customized bone plates specific to an individuals’ body structure and body mass index. According to Stevens, this will reduce a large percentage of plate failures.

“We see plates fail because people’s body structure or weight aren’t correct for that plate, but that’s all the surgeon had, so they used it,” he said.

The plates will also reduce rejection, a frequent issue when a body tries to get rid of a foreign material.

A two-stage plate, the outside wall consists of osteoclasts – bone cells that absorbs bone tissue during growth and healing – that will break down over the length of the healing process. Osteoblasts – cells that secrete proteins for bone formation – will then be revealed to convert what is left of the plate into bone. Patients will never have to have the plate removed or worry about going through a metal detector again.

Kostas Sierros, assistant professor of mechanical and aerospace engineering, encouraged Stevens to enter his design in the competition during his additive manufacturing course, which teaches students about technologies and innovative approaches to design and manufacturing.

“This is a highly competitive contest by one of the biggest names in 3D printing,” said Sierros. “Zach’s selection is a great reassurance for him to further his interests in this area.”

Winners, which will be announced in mid-April, will receive a $2,500 scholarship. For now, Stevens is working to patent his designs through WVU’s LaunchLab and the Office of Technology Transfer.

“This is the reason I came back to school to be an engineer,” said Stevens. “I just like the idea of making life a little better and easier for everyone.”



CONTACT: Mary C. Dillon, Statler College of Engineering and Mineral Resources
304.293.4086, Mary.Dillon@mail.wvu.edu

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