Research from the Division of Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery and the Department of Orthopaedics at Harvard Medical School, MA, demonstrates the use of a domestic 3D printer for use in bone operations. The study shows how, for some transplant procedures, expensive outsourcing of 3D printed surgical aids is not necessary, and that it makes sense for the surgeons themselves to make their own tools. As large 3D printing company’s maneuver to address the medical market for 3D printing, this new research makes for interesting reading.
Using “free” bones to fix other parts of the body
Free flap vascularized transfer is the name given to transplant procedures moving tissue from one part of the body to another, such as the jaw, fingers or toes. In this study, the “free” tissue moved is small parts of bone found in the wrist, knee, and shins.
To perform a vascularized bone transfer, X-rays and CT scans are taken of the donor’s hand/leg, and the suitable transplant bone is identified. In the wrist, this is can be the scaphoid, a small bone near the forearm.
In a typical operation 2D and 3D images of the bones are all the resources surgeons have to perform the procedure. 3D printing allows the MD to simulate the process beforehand with physical models, and use them as templates throughout.
3D printed PLA for pre and intraoperative planning
This study uses the X-ray and CT scan images to make a 3D model in Autodesk’s free Meshmixer software.
From the Meshmixer 3D model, the small scaphoid bone can then be isolated as a model of its own. The researchers 3D print it in PLA on a Micro 3D Printer, retailing around $299.
The plastic equivalent is used in pre-planning to asses how instruments will move around the bone. After sterilizing the PLA scaphoid it was also used during the operation as a template for tissue to be removed.
The conclusion comments,
Surgeon-based 3D printing is a feasible, innovative technology that allows for the precise and rapid contouring of models that can be created in various configurations for pre- and intraoperative planning. The technology is easy to use, convenient, and highly economical as compared with traditional send-out manufacturing. Surgeon-based 3D printing is a useful adjunct in vascularized bone transfer.
The paper Surgeon-Based 3D Printing for Microvascular Bone Flaps, is co-authored by Erin M. Taylor, MD, and Matthew L. Iorio, MD and published in the Journal of Reconstructive Microsurgery.
Democratization of medical devices
Desktop 3D printers have also been used in to advance microfluidic research. As lab-on-a-chip devices take up relatively little space, they have the potential to become a standardized method for testing cell response to substances.
Furthermore, the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign recently released a step-by-step manual for how to 3D print bio-powered robots on DLP 3D printer.
Featured image: 3D printing gives a helping hand. Photo by Brandi Red, shiningstars11 on Flickr