3D Printing in Surgery

  • Creating an identical working model of a patient’s heart allows surgeons to pre-plan complex operating procedures with amazing precision.
  • 3-D printed organs will save time and money in the operating theatre, freeing up funds for investment elsewhere.
  • Using traditional methods, when operating on organs such as the heart, time is of the essence, there is no trial run and no scope for error.

Surgical interventions are now relying more and more on 3D printing to gain a deeper insight into complex operations and devise surgical interventions. All the while AM is becoming cheaper and more accessible, assisting with the testing of new materials and adapting current techniques to the diverse array of opportunities out there.

It is no secret that additive manufacturing (AM) revolutionised the fields of dentistry and orthodontics and is very much in vogue when it comes to new medical innovative components. It is therefore only natural that AM would catch up with surgery, proving to be a brilliant asset in areas such as; reducing costs, time of operation and built-in prosthetics.

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Dramatic examples of 3D printing in surgery

Groundbreaking examples of 3D printing in surgery are illustrated by heart operations. Amongst the many challenging aspects of heart operations, particularly on kids, is the preparation process: devising a plan on how to approach, operate and remedy the defects is not a rehearsal exercise. Unpredictable outcomes and time constraints don’t help, heaping further pressure on the shoulders of the medical profession.

Therefore, being able to construct a prototype of the heart through 3D printing, from its CT and tomographical images, assists greatly in devising and practicing a plan to operate on the defects. Such procedures have already been successfully conducted, resulting in the patient’s full recovery, the decrease of time and cost of operation as well as reducing the risks associated with long open heart surgeries. Examples of notable cases are Roland’s one, a boy born with four heart defects and Mina Khan, who had a broken heart.

The cardiosurgeon demonstrates the heart printed on a 3d printer

Lifesaving 3D printing in surgery

In Roland’s case, the CT scan allowed the researchers to print a 3D model which was 1.5 times bigger and devise a surgical plan. This resulted in one operation instead of four and cut down the costs and time by ¾. The cost of the 3D printed heart was $600 and it only took 20 hours to manufacture.

In the case of Mina, the large hole between the ventricles over her heart posed a challenge: the surgeons had to figure out a procedure that could fix it while the heart was still pumping. The procedure needed to be highly accurate to make sure the heart’s tiny proportions and fragile state were not damaged. The team of surgeons of St Thomas hospital relied on CT and MRI imagery to develop a 3D printed model that accurately rendered the heart during pumping. This allowed them to move into the operating room with a devised surgical intervention plan. Mina has been doing great since the operation, recovering from the surgery and the condition.

3D printed body parts and implants

Aside from 3D models that allow an easier and strategic intervention, 3D printed parts implemented in the body have also been successfully conducted. When a bone infection was destroying the right leg of patient Mr Lichter, a 3D bone scaffold was devised by the team of surgeons and researchers taking care of his case – in an effort to prevent amputation. Once the infected bones were removed, the 3D tibia scaffold was setup in his leg allowing for healthy bone tissue to grow around it.

The polymer used in the 3D part is made of human-friendly material that will gradually dissolve as the bone builds up, allowing smooth recovery and transition without an extra operation to remove it. In the case of cranioplasty, surgeons have observed that relying on 3D implants that were devised through reverse engineering and prior CT scans, instead of traditional ones, is highly effective. They not only reduce surgery time and expenses, but the 3D models are manufactured with high accuracy from the CT and respect precise tolerance intervals that can otherwise be different on traditional implants. They are traditionally a result of machine accuracy and precision parameters rather than taking into account precise aspects of the skeleton.

3D printed mandibleThe same goes for dental surgery: implementing a tooth while taking into consideration the old tooth’s shape and tolerance interval proves effective with the bothersome effects of dilatation and expansion. Facial reconstruction is also a fertile field for 3D printing, whether it be for surgical guidance or recreation of missing bones. Currently researchers are working on creating high quality 3D printed tissue that can react to delicate nerve motion and reproduce facial expressions.

3D printed prosthetics

3D printing is also increasingly used in the field of prosthetics. For instance, sockets are a critical part of any prosthesis for an amputee. 3D printing often proves an easier and time-saving route compared to traditional manual casting.

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