Surgeries made possible by 3D printing!

A Summary of 7 Mind-Blowing Surgeries Made Possible by 3D Printing – Including Spinal Fusion Surgery and Titanium Heel Implants.

3D printing technology has enabled some truly life-changing surgeries in the past year

Though printing items like chocolate and pizza might be satisfying enough for some, 3D printing still holds a lot of unfulfilled potential. Talk abounds of disrupting manufacturing, changing the face of construction and even building metal components in space. While it is hard not to get a little bit excited by these potentially world-changing advances, there is one domain where 3D printing is already having a real-life impact. Its capacity to produce customized implants and medical devices tailored specifically to a patient’s anatomy has seen it open up all kinds of possibilities in the field of medicine, with the year 2014 having turned up one world-first surgery after another. Let’s cast our eye over some of the significant, life-changing procedures to emerge in the past year made possible by 3D printing technology.

Replacing the upper jaw

Earlier this year, the removal of an Indian man’s upper jaw due to cancer saw parts of both his nose and mouth left exposed. Things got worse for the 41-year-old after six weeks of radiotherapy, throughout which he developed radiation-induced fibrosis and lockjaw, severely impacting his ability to open his mouth.

Specialists used a CT scan to create a 3D reconstruction of the man’s face. Areplica of his mouth was then 3D-printed and used as a template to produce a wax model, which was then hardened and fitted with teeth. With the prosthesis adjusted to fit snugly in place, the man’s chewing, swallowing, speaking and other mouth movements are said to be considerably improved.

Forming a new skull

When a 22-year-old woman was suffering from a condition that caused her skull to thicken, specialists at the University Medical Center (UMC) Utrecht were of the opinion that a partial implant would be necessary. These had been used before when sections of the skull were removed to relieve pressure on the brain, but the cement versions were not always a good fit.

The doctors worked with an Australian implant company to create a 3D model of the patient’s skull and printed an implant that would be an exact fit. While the increasing brain pressure threatened to impair the patient’s coordination and other brain functions, the 3D printed implant led her to a full recovery.

Spinal fusion surgery

Spinal fusion surgery is a complex procedure used to treat patients with conditions like disc degeneration and spinal instability. An important tool in this process is the spine cage, a medical device that serves as a replacement for damaged discs. By 3D printing a spine cage that had been tailored to the patient’s anatomy, a team of French surgeons was able to implant the device in a woman back in May with great results.

“The intersomatic cage, specifically printed by Medicrea for my patient, positioned itself automatically in the natural space between the vertebrae and molded ideally with the spine by joining intimately with the end plates, despite their relative asymmetry and irregularity,” said Dr. Vincent Fiere, the surgeon who performed the procedure at Hospital Jean Mermoz in Lyon, France.

Replacing cancerous vertebra

It wasn’t until a month after innocuously heading a soccer ball during a match that the entire body of a 12-year-old Chinese boy went numb. Spinal experts found that he had developed a malignant tumor on the second vertebra in his neck. In a five hour procedure conducted in August, surgeons removed the cancerous vertebra and replaced it with a 3D-printed implant.

The artificial vertebra was secured in place by titanium screws and the specialists said it was an improvement on existing methods. Typically, the patient’s head would need to supported by pins and cannot touch the bed while they are resting for around three months afterwards. But through 3D printing, the doctors could replicate the shape of the original vertebra, making it much stronger. Following the surgery, the patient was said to be in good physical condition and recovering as expected.

A titanium heel implant

Len Chandler, a 71-year-old man from Melbourne, Australia was faced with amputation below the knee after doctors diagnosed him with cancer in the heel bone. In exhausting all options, the surgeons had also been working with experts from the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO), exploring the possibility of producing a 3D-printed implant to save the patient’s lower leg.

Using schematics of the heel bone, a titanium implant was printed and inserted into Chandler’s foot in July. Three months later, he was said to be recovering well and able to place some weight on his heel again.

A 3D printed hip implant

The doctors of a 15-year-old Swedish girl suffering from a congenital disease resulting in skeletal deformations in the left hip were uncertain if she would walk again. But they then approached an implant manufacturing company called Mobelife to see what options might be available.

Mobelife used a tomography scan to create a detailed picture of the patient’s unique bone anatomy, ultimately printing an implant that would be secured with screws to the bone surrounding the defect. The operation was performed in September 2012 and eighteen months later she was walking entirely unaided.

Planning for complex heart surgery

When surgeons were approached by the parents of a 14-month-old boy born with four heart defects at Kosair Children’s Hospital in the US, they knew they had a task on their hands. But in planning for this surgery, they would be afforded the help of invaluable new-age medical tool.

Using CT scans of the baby’s heart, researchers at the University of Louisville were able to print a 3D model of the organ, measuring 1.5 times its actual size. This process took around 20 hours and cost US$600, but gave the doctors unprecedented opportunity to plan prior to a heart surgery, seeing them repair the heart’s defects in a single operation. Following his release from hospital, the boy was said to be in good health.

These are no doubt just the tip of the iceberg in terms of the benefits 3D printing will bring to the field of medicine in the coming years, so it will be interesting to see how the technology develops.

by  | December 11, 2014

The first 3D printed vertebrae

The first 3D printed vertabra has successfully been implanted in 12 year old boy! Follow the link to read more!…/peking-university-implants-first-3…/

Liu Zhongiun, Director of Orthopedics at Peking University, holding the 3D printed vertebra.

Doctors at Peking University have successfully implanted the first 3D printed vertebrae in a young patient.

The patient, a 12 year old boy, had a malignant tumour in his spinal cord. After hours  of specialized spinal cord surgery, doctors replaced a section of cancerous vertebra in his neck with the 3D printed piece.

3D printing creates layer upon layer of material in specific patterns or shapes to make a 3D object from a digital model.  Materials in 3D printing are usually polymers and metals, and in this case, a titanium powder which is a traditional orthopedic implant material.

As far as tradition goes, that’s where the similarities end. Because of the limitations of traditional orthopedic implant manufacturing  – normally in geometric-type shapes with less realistic shaping or conformity to the bones, implants typically don’t attach to the bone without orthopedic cement or screws.

The worldwide orthopedic market had global revenues of more than $36b in 2008. According to a new report by Freedonia, the demand for implantable medical devices in the United States alone is projected to increase 7.7 percent annually to $52 billion in 2015. The study reported that orthopedic implants will be one of the fastest growing and nanotechnology and biotechnology will fuel growth and demand to the market. With the Silver Economy coming of age, orthopedics is a high growth market.

Because 3D printing is flexible, based on and created from a digital model, 3D printing enables orthopedic implants to be printed in any shape. This opens the door to hundreds of possibilities that weren’t available before. Now, instead of cement or screws, the implant is more in line or matches the bone around it.

In the case of the boy’s 3D implant, the doctor’s took this one step further and made tiny pores in the implant so the bones can grow into the implants which secures the device and eliminates cement and screws.

“Although the probability is very low, it is possible that under long-term pressure from inside the body, traditional implants might plug into bones gradually, or become detached from bones. But there will be no such problems for 3-D printed implants,” said Liu Zhongjun, Director, Orthopedics Department, Peking University.

Liu’s team began the program in 2009 and provided designs based on their clinical experience and understanding of surgical needs. A medical device company digitalized their designs for 3D printing. In 2010, they moved to animal trials with sheep and after trials proved the 3D implants were safe, they applied for human clinical trials in 2012.

by Jennifer HicksContributor | 8/19/2014 2:48PM

3D printed shape shifting materials

3D printed shape shifting materials have been developed at MIT, which might be a breakthrough in the creation of shape-shifting robots that may have an influence in surgery for instance, where a robot can shift and move through a patients body without harming it.

Two 3D-printed soft, flexible scaffolds

Massachusetts Institute of Technology researchers, with the help of 3D printing, have developed a material that can switch between hard and soft. The material is described in a paper in the “Macromolecular Materials and Engineering” journal. It was developed by a team led by Anette Hosoi, a professor of mechanical engineering and applied mathematics at MIT, and is made of wax and foam.

The material was created based on the needs of Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA). The agency wanted researchers to create robots that were octopus-like in that they could squeeze through tight spaces and then expand again. After much consideration, the research team decided that the only way they could meet DARA’s needs was to come with a material that could switch between being hard and soft.

“If you’re trying to squeeze under a door, for example, you should opt for a soft state, but if you want to pick up a hammer or open a window, you need at least part of the machine to be rigid,” Hosoi said to MIT News.

To create a material that was able to be “squishy” and rigid, the research team turned to foam and wax. They chose foam because it can be compressed, so that it is smaller than its normal size. They chose wax because it is hard when cool, but flexible when heat is applied. Creating the first batch of material was pretty simple. The research team dipped ordinary polyurethane foam in melted wax. Next, they encouraged the foam to soak up the wax by squeezing it.

During the next testing phase, the researchers 3D-printed the foam that they used in a lattice pattern instead of using regular polyurethane foam. They found that the 3D-printed foam worked better, perhaps because the research team was able to design the structure of the foam.  The way in which they enabled the material to harden or soften was by heated it via copper wires.

A potential application of the material is use in surgical robots. Because robots made of this material could change states at will, they would be able to move through a patient’s body without damaging it. Search and rescue missions are another potential use of the new technology. Robots made of the phase-changing material would be able to go where human emergency responders cannot, looking through rubble,  for survivors during catastrophes.

Now the research team is looking into using other materials that can be used for robotics in a similar way as the wax/foam combination. According to MIT News, the researchers are looking at fluids that have particles suspended inside them to see if they too can be made to switch from soft to hard in the presence of a magnetic or electrical field. Let’s hear your opinion on this 3D printed material in the shape shifting material forum thread on  Check out the video below showing the material in action.

by  | JULY 16, 2014

First 3D printed shoulder prosthesis

The influence of 3D printing on medicine just keeps on increasing in leaps and bounds!!!

Shoulder and Glenoid Cavity

3D printing in the medical field is really beginning to hit its stride lately. Whether it is the use of 3D printing to create models for surgeons to study, using 3D printers to create prosthetic hands or arms, or actually 3D printing replacement parts for the body, we are getting ever so close to a time when 3D printing will be used on a daily basis in every hospital around the globe.

The latest bit of news comes out of the Netherlands, where a patient at the Rijnland Hospital in Leiderdorp is set to receive a 3D printed shoulder & glenoid cavity prosthesis, with the help of orthopedic surgeon Dr. Cornelis Visser. The 3D printing of the prosthetic shoulder, in theory should allow the patient to get full range of motion back in his shoulder.

3D printing has allowed doctors to create a totally unique prosthesis that will fit the patient’s anatomy almost perfectly.

“A few weeks before the operation, we take a CT scan of the shoulder of the patient,” explained Dr. Cornelis Visser (translation). “This produces a 3D image. From this image, the optimum position of the prosthesis is determined, and a custom-made mold is printed in the United States. Previously, the position of the prosthesis was only determined during the operation, by the naked eye.  Now I use this unique (3D printed) mold. This allows me to connect to the unique anatomy of the patient, by using the entire prosthesis.”

Once the surgery is complete, the patient’s new shoulder should feel more natural than that of traditional shoulder replacements. The prosthesis should move better, and there should be an equal distribution of force on the joint, when the shoulder is in use. Because of this equal distribution of force, the life-span of the prosthesis should last longer than traditional replacements, although there is no historical data to confirm this, since 3D printing is so relatively new for medical prostheses.

This is the first case in the Netherlands where a 3D printed shoulder replacement has been used in surgery. Previously this same technology has been used in the creation of knee prostheses.

What do you think? Will this technology become more common in the coming years? Discuss in the 3D printed shoulder prosthesis forum thread on

by  | JULY 13, 2014