3D Printing Revolutionizing Medical Surgeries with Patient-Specific Models

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Medicos, ever wanted to study anatomy in 3D? Ever wondered if we could see our X-ray scans in 3D? The answer is yes. Thanks to the advancement in science and technology, this is now possible. When you hear the term 3D printing, What’s the first thing that comes to your mind? Action figure or toy, right? Well, 3D printing has come very far from that; you can now use it to print ALMOST ANYTHING.

But first, do we really know what 3D printing is? 3D printing, or additive manufacturing, is the construction of a three-dimensional object from a CAD model. 3D Printing is a process for making a physical object from a three-dimensional digital model, typically by laying down many successive thin layers of material. It brings a digital object (its CAD representation) into its physical form by adding layer by layer of materials. The applications of 3D printing are far-reaching and find its application in Medical science. One such application is in surgical and anatomical models.

Patient Specific Surgical/Anatomical Models


Anatomical models are 3D models of human body parts that are employed by professors and doctors to teach medical students. Whereas patient specific surgical models are used as a surgeon-manufacturer communication tool during pre-surgical planning when the surgeon defines requirements for the design of a patient specific implant and proceed to the validation of the design. These models also help to effectively communicate the expected surgery outcomes to the patient.
These patient specific anatomical models are created using the patient’s radiological imagery (computed tomography and magnetic resonance tomography) using specific software. These models are of two kinds: virtual surgical/anatomical model and physical surgical/anatomical model.

How does 3D Printing aids medicos in surgeries?


Where does 3D printing come in the picture? 3D printed patient specific anatomical models are used by surgeons for the visualization of the surgical plan, as well as for training purposes. The use of patient specific anatomical models as a tool for visualization of the surgical plan, decreases the duration of surgery and its invasiveness, which in turn decreases the risk of complications and the treatment as well.  It is always better to have a physical model prior to the surgery or for explanation as it really helps the surgeon to communicate with the patient. He can use the model to present the patient his/her pathology, explain the prepared treatment and obtain patient’s approval for it. Patients who get to physically touch and see their own anatomical structure model from every angle possible, get better understanding of their pathology, the purpose of planned surgical procedures and chosen treatment plan.
There are many testimonials to highlight the importance and impact that 3D printing has in the Medical field. According to the Medical journal “Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery” of the American Society of Plastic Surgeons (ASPS), Computer-designed, 3D printed models are emerging as a useful new tool for planning and carrying out cosmetic plastic surgery of the nose. In the operating room, the surgeon can refer to the 3D-printed models as a “side-by-side reference,” helping to see and appreciate subtle changes occurring during the rhinoplasty procedure. The models help to ensure that the outcomes of cosmetic rhinoplasty are as close as possible to the planned appearance of the patient’s nose.
Another breakthrough achieved is 3D printing cranial nerves. Presently, a patient seeking surgical intervention for cranial nerve pain relies upon his neurosurgeon’s expertise in radiologically identifying nerve compressions. This is problematic because there are very few neurosurgeons who are trained and skilled at identifying compressions on MRI scans. Cranial nerve compressions are not very easy to detect and while it may be helpful, even the precise and detailed MRI can’t produce images that make compressions clear. All of this leads to many facial pain patients being denied surgical treatment for chronic facial pain, effectively stripping the patient of an option that could have been an effective form of pain management. 3D printed neuroanatomical models can be particularly helpful to neurosurgeons by providing a representation of some of the most complicated structures in the human body. The intricate sometimes obscured relationships between cranial nerves, vessels, cerebral structures, and skull architecture can be difficult to interpret based solely on radiographic 2D images. Even a small error in navigating this complex anatomy can have potentially devastating consequences. A realistic 3D model reflecting the relationship between a lesion and normal brain structures can be helpful in determining the safest surgical corridor and can also be useful for the neurosurgeon to rehearse challenging cases.

3D Printing Revolutionizing Healthcare with Novel Solutions

3d printing human body. 3d printed body parts, closeup view inside 3d printer.
Apart from its application to patient-specific surgical and anatomical models, 3D printing is also used in tissue engineering, patient-fit prostheses and to create medical device prototypes. Over 90 percent of the top 50 medical device companies use 3D printing to create accurate prototypes of medical devices, as well as jigs and fixtures to simplify testing. 3D printing can accelerate the design process by iterating complex designs in days instead of weeks. Currently, the means of treating patients with grave organ failures involve using autografts, a graft of tissue from one point to another of the same individual’s body, or organ transplants from a donor. Researchers in the fields of bioprinting and tissue engineering are hoping to soon change that and be able to create tissues, blood vessels, and organs on demand. 3D bioprinting refers to the use of additive manufacturing processes to deposit materials known as bio inks to create tissue-like structures that can be used in medical fields. Tissue engineering refers to the various evolving technologies, including bioprinting, to grow replacement tissues and organs in the laboratory for use in treating injury and disease. A pioneer in tissue engineering, Dr. Sam Pashneh-Tala grows living cells on a scaffold in the lab, that provides a template of the required shape, size, and geometry. In Dr. Pashneh-Tala’s words: “[Creating blood vessels through 3D printing] offers the potential for improved surgical options and even patient-matched blood vessel designs. Without access to high-precision, affordable 3D printing, creating these shapes would not be possible.” Scientists are developing new hydrogel materials that have the same consistency as organ tissue that can be found in the human brain and lungs and can be compatible with various 3D printing processes. Scientists are hoping to be able to implant them onto an organ, to act as ‘scaffold’ onto which cells would be encouraged to grow. Coming to prosthetics, Simple prostheses are only available in a few sizes, so patients must make do with what fits best, while custom-fit bionic devices designed to mimic the motions and grips of real limbs that rely on muscles in a person’s residual limb to control their functions are so expensive that they’re only accessible to patients with the best health insurance in developed countries. This particularly affects prostheses for children. The difficulty is the lack of manufacturing processes that can produce custom parts affordably. But increasingly, prosthetists can take advantage of 3D printing’s much-noted design freedom to mitigate these high financial barriers to treatment. The applications 3D printing holds are countless. Maybe you don’t have a medical-related 3D printing requirement, but you can still use 3D printing technology to your benefit. It’s as easy as uploading your 3D file to our online 3D printing service.

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