Use of 3D printing grows rapidly among orthopedic surgeons

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3D printing technology is increasing in its capabilities to assist orthopedic surgeons in a variety of ways to enable its use in bone procedures.

A recent article in an orthopedic journal reaches the conclusion that advancements in 3D printing technology are transforming the specialists’ ability to provide care.

Published in the December issue of the Journal of the American Academy of Orthpaedic Surgeons, the article details how 3D printing is currently being used to create a model of a patient’s specific fracture pattern or bone pathology.

"Advancements in 3D printing technology and greater availability have enabled uses for prototyping, customization, research, simulation and so much more across the orthopaedic industry,” writes lead author Nathan Skelley, MD, medical director for orthopedic research at Sanford Health in Sioux Falls, S.D. ‘Z3D printing applications can have a positive impact on a patient's treatment in the clinic and in the operating room."

Maturation of the technology has produced several trends that mirror what’s happened to other cutting-edge technologies over time, the authors note. 3D printers are becoming smaller, more affordable and more accessible to physicians. In addition, increasing access to open-source 3D imaging software has made implementation of the technology widely feasible.

Advanced imaging studies, like CT scans, can be used to create 3D bone models, providing orthopedic surgeons with a wide variety of uses. For example, such models then can be used to create custom orthopedic guides, surgical simulations and instruments.

"We no longer have to imagine complex anatomy or new devices using pencil and paper,” Skelley wrote. “With 3D printing, we can test approaches with simulated anatomy and interact more quickly with device innovation."

Other opportunities for the technology are emerging—the article’s authors explore the various ways 3D printing technology has been associated with improvements in education, preoperative planning, surgical care, prosthetics and patient-specific devices and treatments.

Researchers are looking at new ways to use 3D technology for orthopedic purposes, and the article looks at potential applications that are on the horizon.

"3D technology truly is a game changer with results that can't be fully quantified at this time," contends co-author and orthopedic surgeon Matthew J. Smith, MD, of the University of Missouri’s Missouri Orthopaedic Institute.

In one novel use case for 3D printing, Skelley was able to print a model of a patient's shoulder and simulate different surgical techniques to determine a way to reduce and secure a dislocated collar bone without going through the typical musculoskeletal approach because that approach was affected by the patient's injury. With the help of the 3D printed models, he refined a surgical technique before going to the operating room. The same surgical technique has since been used by other surgeons and applied to other patients with excellent results.

New capabilities lie just over the horizon, although some caution must temper enthusiasm, Skelley adds.

"Whenever new technology is developed, we need to approach it in a thoughtful, researched and careful manner," Skelley adds. "In the future, I believe we'll start to see 3D printing focusing on regenerative medicine, joint preservation and the ability to 3D print in biologic materials that have the potential to replace musculoskeletal tissues such as bone, cartilage, ligament, and tendon."

The article can be accessed here.

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