3D printing has had a major impact on many areas, from automobiles and aerospace to consumer products and education to scientific research. But the one that always fascinates me the most is how 3D technology has changed the face of medicine, and specifically surgery. From 3D imaging and 3D printed patient-specific models, which as we know are very useful in terms of planning for complex surgical procedures, to 3D bioprinting and 3D printed medical devices, the technology has certainly been making waves in the medical field.
While we’re still not quite at a point where we can just push a button to print out a new ear or liver for those who need it, 3D printed medical devices are becoming more and more common, and according to research, the market for these devices is expected to continue going up through the next decade. There are facilities and materials dedicated to 3D printed medical devices, and we’ve seen a wide variety, from sleep apnea devices and prosthetic and orthotic devices to metal 3D printed devices, like the iFuse3D titanium implant for the sacroiliac joint.
Another good example of a metal 3D printed medical device set to assist in surgical scenaerios is a heart stabilizer, recently developed together by cardiothoracic surgeon Richard Trimlett, who works at the Royal Brompton Hospital in London, and design development center Sutrue, which develops medical instruments used in cardiology. Typically, an open heart surgery begins by using a suction device to stabilize the heart, but it’s very difficult to do this during a keyhole heart surgery, a minimally invasive but delicate procedure.
“The heart is beating during the surgery, but we need to hold this very small area that we’re working on still. We need tools with very small parts that we can pass in and out,” Trimlett explained.
Back in 2015, we heard about the DragonFlex, another 3D printed surgical device developed for use during keyhole surgeries, but that instrument was not made specifically for heart surgeries; it was also printed out of ceramic-filled epoxy resin. Trimlett wanted a metal, disposable tool that was customizable by both size and shape, and asked Alex Berry, the CEO of Sutrue and developer of the company’s entire device range, if he could help.
Trimlett said, “I asked Alex if he could make something that comes apart in pieces and passes through a very small incision that we could use to hold the heart stable.”
For the last two years, Sutrue has been utilizing an Mlab cusing machine, which uses a bed of stainless steel powder to 3D print medical instruments and other medical devices, like dental restorations; Concept Laser’s patented LaserCUSING process has also been used to 3D print craniomaxillofacial implants.
Compared to the months it typically takes to develop a new prototype with traditional manufacturing methods, each prototype of Trimlett and Berry’s 3D printed heart stabilizer only took four hours to make. The final version of the tool was completed in just three months, which is amazing when you consider that it can take up to a decade to develop conventional medical tools; however, the heart stabilizer still needs to pass tests and approvals before it is ready for the market.
“Additive manufacturing always fascinated me, but it is still underestimated today. It could lead to new thinking in this area, inspiring the experts with the freedom of geometry, miniaturization, short development times and other benefits that can be exploited even more widely,” said Berry.
“In principle, any conventional component can be reconceived. Redesign will probably be our consistent theme in the future.”
Berry said, “The solution cost an estimated £15,000 to develop. Comparable developments used to cost upwards of a million pounds.”
When it comes to 3D printing technology in the medical field, be it 3D printed models, 3D imaging, or custom devices like this 3D printed heart stabilizer, it’s clear that the world of medicine will never be the same. Discuss in the Cardiology forum at 3DPB.com.[Source: GE Reports]