Rapid prototyping and 3D printing have been seeing vast technological advancement as researchers all over the world are keen on unraveling their hidden potential. Industries like aerospace, shipbuilding, education, industrial manufacturing etc., many of which we have featured in our blog, have seen many applications of rapid prototyping. The one field that stands out from the lot, however, is medical science. From 3D printed human tissue to prosthetic limbs, from dental braces to medicine to even surgical models, 3D printing is transforming the medical industry as we know it. In the next twenty years or so, a lot of our modern medical treatments will begin to depend on this revolutionary technology.
Even though academic hospitals around the world are rapidly bringing in 3D printed implants and models to deal with complex, unusual and life threatening surgeries, Chinese surgeons are really taking it to another level when it comes to surgeries. They have even used a 4D printed tracheal stent to save a patient just last month. These applications may sound mind boggling at first, but they are increasingly opening new doors of insight into traditional surgery procedures. There have been two recent surgeries, one at Third Military Medical University and the other at Southwest Hospital, China. In both cases, the patients had ankle joint deformities that were severe in nature. With the help of 3D printed bone grafts, the treatment was made more accurate compared to conventional implants. It also helped significantly reduce the impact of the surgery on patient health. Did anyone say painless surgeries? Not quite, but this method has not weakened the patient post-surgery, which is always a positive.
In today’s world, joint diseases and defects in bones are becoming more common. The reasons why they occur can range from the trauma of road accidents to degenerative old age diseases and bone tumors. In such cases, the badly formed joints and bones cause extreme discomfort and pain to patients when they try to move. The foot and the ankle joints especially, can make walking very difficult and painful for patients, barring them from walking normally. Leader of the 3D printing initiative and Director of the Joint Surgery Department of the Southwest Hospital, Professor Yang Liu, explains that around ten percent of all joint surgery and orthopedic patients have defects in their bones in one form or the other.
At present, there are two methods of treatment available as a remedy to these complications. One of them involves removing the bone tissue from unaffected parts of the body, transplanting it to the area needed. The disadvantage of this method is that there is seldom enough transplantable material available for the purpose. The body has a limited amount of bone tissue and removing an excessive amount from other locations can cause significant risk. The other method relies on other cadavers or patients from whom bone transplant material is taken. This is also an undesirable method as there is an added risk of the bone tissues not being exact matches, hence the rejection risk. Also, the transplanted structures of bone are usually not as hard as they are expected to be.
There has now been a breakthrough in the treatment, adding 3D printing as a third alternative to the picture. At Southwest Hospital of the Third Military Medical University, 3D printed bone grafts were developed which have, in fact, already been transplanted into two patients. The patients, both female were 57 and 60 years old respectively- the typical age from which your bone structure is not as strong as in your youth. Moreover, one of them suffered arthritis and bone defects in both of her ankle joints. Making her case even more complex was the fact that she had already received a bone transplant in 2014, meaning that there was a serious deficit of transplantable bone material, because her right foot was affected. As the patient refused conventional treatment, the researchers took this opportunity to test out the new 3D printing method. The other patient had severe bone deformation and a previous medical correction only resulted in an uneven surface area.
Even though the ladies both came in with complicated cases, they had one thing in common; their solution had to be customized. In order to achieve the desired surgical effect, Duan Xiao Jun, Associate Professor and Surgeon of the Joint Surgery Department, first procured data from CT scans of both patients. Along with his surgical team, he sent the data to develop a digital model by extensive rapid prototyping, design improvements and extensive modifications. The end product was again sent miles away to the Shanaaxi Institute for Materials Engineering where the models were used for making 3D printed, customized implants, along with steel plate fixtures.
Yang Liu elaborated that these 3D printed grafts were far more comfortable and easier to work with for the surgeons. The tailor made fixation of the ankle implant was made through 3D printing, which solves the bone defect problems in patients. The fixture resetting problem too is dealt with in an easier manner.
Our team of experts are ready to help you.