Surgeons from the Mackay Base Hospital in Queensland, Australia are using 3D printers to produce life-size, patient-specific bone models to help in the treatment of broken or fractured bones. It is the first hospital in the Queensland region to do so.
One of the most important uses of 3D printing in the medical field to date has been the manufacturing of models based on individual patient anatomies. As doctors from all over the world have suggested, having a tangible, three-dimensional model of a patient’s organ or bone (whatever the case may be) can give helpful insight for pre-operative planning and surgical training. Especially in complex cases, being able to properly visualize what will be dealt with in surgery is a huge advantage for surgeons and for patients.
It is no surprise then that 3D printing is increasingly being adopted by hospitals across the globe, from the UK, to the UAE, to China, to Australia, and more. At the Mackay Base Hospital in Queensland, surgeons have benefitted from having a 3D printer on hand, as it has been used to create models of fractured bones.
Having 3D models of injured bones offers many advantages over simply looking at X-rays and CT scans, says orthopaedic surgeon Jonathan Davis. “A 3D structure, which is what you’re dealing with in life and then obviously when you’re in the operating theatre, there’s a lot of soft tissues in the way and you only have a limited exposure to the bone. In this case we can isolate the bone as a whole and hold it in your hand, have a look at it from all the angles and see what we're dealing with,” he told Australian press.
Real human bone (left), 3D printed bone (right)
Using a patient’s CT scan data, the hospital staff are able to 3D print a life-size bone model for as little as $10 and in three to 12 hours (depending on the size of the bone). The 3D printer, which from the photos appears to be Leapfrog’s Bolt 3D printer, was shipped to the hospital from the Netherlands and cost about $8,000.
One of the biggest advantages of planning surgery with a 3D printed, patient-specific model is the potential to cut down on actual surgery time, which, in turn, lowers the risk of infection. As Dr. Davis explains, “It's all about decreasing the surgical procedure time…The longer the skin is open, there's numerous issues including infection and also damage to the skin and soft tissues, which we can avoid by having shortened and efficient operating times. From a surgical planning point of view, it will save time in terms of the time the patient may be on the operating table, because we'll have more of a structured plan.”
Additionally, medical professionals can print off models based on the patient’s healthy bones as well, to compare and contrast them to the injured bone and to use them for measuring and fitting plates.
Dr. Jonathan Davis
Another big bonus of having accurate 3D printed anatomical models is the potential to explain procedures and conditions to patients. That is, being able to visualize and even hold a replica of their injured bone could help patients to better grasp what is happening to their body and what it will undergo in surgery.
Currently, 3D printed patient models can only be used outside of the operating room at the Mackay Base Hospital, primarily because the materials used to 3D print the bone models are plastic and cannot be adequately sterilized. Materials with higher melting points are being experimented with, however.
Photos: ABC News, Sophie Meixner