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Figure1Promoter of the Italian Digital Biomanufacturing Network (IDBN), Dr. Nicola Bizzotto Orthopedic and Trauma Surgeon – Hand Surgeon of the Dolomiti Sportclinic in Ortisei-Bolzano, Sud Tirol,Italy, has been a first adopter of 3D printing in pre-surgical preparation and a strong supporter of its benefits. Most recently with a group of Italian surgeons and a Swiss colleague (Dr. Ivan Tami, “Centro Manoegomito”, Clinica Ars Medica, Lugano), Dr. Bizzotto had a study published on the Injury scientific journal detailing the advantages in the use of 3D printed specifically in distal radius (wrist) fractures.

Working for an orthopedic and trauma clinic that treats several professional winter sports athletes, Dr. Bizzotto has built up significant experience in treating wrist related injuries. He had a key role in the clinic’s decision to become the first of its kind to adopt 3D printing in addition to digital tomography data to physically reproduce the injuries of wrist and hand.

The Three Key Advantage of Medical 3D Printing

One of the distal radius fractures 3D printed by Dr. Bizzotto's team.

One of the distal radius fractures 3D printed by Dr. Bizzotto’s team.

“The advantages in the use of 3D printing immediately became clear in three main aspects of patient treatment,” said Dr. Bizzotto. “The physical 3D model is used primarily for studying and preparing the surgical intervention as well as to select the ideal surgical plate. This translates into an immediate reduction of operating times and costs. One additional benefit is the use of the 3D printed model in patient-doctor communication.”

The study published in Injury Journal analyzed the cases of 40 patients who enrolled in the participating clinics between November 2014 and June 2015 to be treated for a distal radius fracture. The fractured bone, 3D printed with a Stratasys 3D printer, was evaluated by the surgeons and used for pre-operative planning.

This means that the doctors used it to find the exact ideal location and orientation for the plate’s screws and also for illustrating the surgical procedure to the patient. The plate was supplied by Medartis, a Swiss company based in Basel, that produces medical solutions for hand surgery and co-financed this study.

More Preparation Means Shorter Recoveries

The metal plates are first tested on the 3D printed bone replicas to ensure an ideal fit.

The metal plates are first tested on the 3D printed bone replicas to ensure an ideal fit.

“Operating room times were reduced by an average of several minutes per intervention, which alone is sufficient to justify the costs of using 3D printing,” Dr. Bizzotto explained. “However the main advantages become clear when something does not go as foreseen. Being able to immediately test the exact positioning of the plate enabled us to make changes immediately and with no additional discomfort for the patient, who, otherwise, might have had to endure a longer operation or even a new incision.”

This precision is of fundamental importance in wrist surgery since a failure in properly restoring the bony alignment may cause function to remain poor even after healing. The study also reveled that patients reported an enthusiastic general appreciation about the use of 3D printed models, which resulted in a substantial improvement in comprehension of the fracture and more confidence in the surgeons abilities.

In 2016 Dr. Bizzotto and AITASIT (the Italian Association of Radiological Technicians) will hold an official “Advanced University Course on 3D Printed Replica of Orthopedic Conditions and Fractures”, in cooperation with big actors like Materialise, 3DZ and Stratasys for Doctors, Medical Students and Radiologist Technicians, to further promote the use and adoption of 3D printing in a growing range of pre-surgical applications.

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