In 2019, Stratasys (NASDAQ: SSYS) released its Digital Anatomy solution, which combined three materials and custom software inside GrabCAD with its full-color, multimaterial J750 printer for the purposes of turning 3D scans into realistic 3D printed anatomical models for training and surgical planning. The Digital Anatomy materials are optimized to look and feel like bone and tissue, and mimic the mechanical properties of actual human tissue very closely, so the solution is a great option for functional models. Now, the company announced that it has upgraded the J750 Digital Anatomy printer to give it more advanced bone capabilities for super-realistic models and simulations.
The bone models that Digital Anatomy is now capable of fabricating offer more than just a startlingly lifelike appearance: they are actually biomechanically accurate, and this is a fact that’s been verified by clinical research studies. Because of the solution’s software upgrade, the J750 is able to realistically mimic porous bone structures, ligaments, and fibrotic tissue, so medical professionals can print models that actually behave like real human bone.
“We believe that better preparation leads to better clinical outcomes. The mechanical properties of bone are so fundamental to the ability of our skeletons to support movement, provide protection for our vital organs and ultimately affect our quality of life. Being able to 3D print models that are biomechanically accurate and unique to each patient is critical to that preparation,” Vice President Osnat Philipp, the leader of the global healthcare team at Stratasys, explained in a press release.
Most traditional bone models are less than optimal, as human bone is hard to get and costs a lot of money, and it’s difficult to find bone with the specific pathology characteristics that researchers need, such as various ages or bones with tumors. Human bone from cadavers has been used in the past, in addition to off-the-shelf manufactured models, and both of these options are not patient-specific. That’s why researchers in the medical industry have been turning to 3D printed bone models, but these are not all created equal. Stratasys says that its Digital Anatomy bone models offer extremely realistic haptic feedback when surgeons are sawing the model or inserting a screw into one, and they are also patient-specific, as “each model can be created from an actual patient scan.”
When Stratasys first introduced its Digital Anatomy solution, the main focus was to use its software, and new GelMatrix and TissueMatrix materials, to create realistic soft cardiology tissues, like blood vessels and hearts, rather than hard bone. The resulting anatomical models helped medical device trainers conduct testing, gave medical professionals a realistic training device, and helped surgeons prepare for operations in advance. What’s changed with this new software enhancement is that all of these can continue to occur, but for orthopedic applications now.
A doctor at a Florida children’s hospital said that realistic 3D printed skull and spine models, like the ones enabled by the J750 Digital Anatomy, give doctors a better training tool for practicing cutting and drilling bones.
“The opportunities seem endless to me because doctors can ‘operate’ before they operate. It’s going to decrease surgical time, it’s going to decrease morbidity and mortality, and help us decrease anesthesia time, which is better for brain development,” she said.
The J750 Digital Anatomy system is obviously an important part of the solution, but the software really kicks things up a notch, featuring over 100 sophisticated presets resulting from years of testing by leading hospitals and academic medical centers all over the globe. Stratasys says that physicians can print long bones with different amounts of marrow, or ensure a solid contrast between general bones and denser skull bones. Vertebrae joints can be 3D printed with different levels of stiffness, material combinations can be printed at the voxel level for correct biomechanical properties, and it’s even possible to print intervertebral discs normally or degenerated.
A clinical evaluation of bone model characteristics 3D printed on the J750 Digital Anatomy printer was completed this year by researchers at Tel Aviv University‘s Computational Mechanics and Experimental Biomechanics Lab, with a focus on the accuracy of screw pull-out force and driving torque with both cancellous and cortical screws. The team concluded that the pull-out force of orthopedic screws used with the Stratasys 3D printed models featured a haptic response similar to what they’d see with human cadaver bone. Another 2020 study, by a team at Israel’s Technion Institute of Technology’s Materials Science and Engineering Laboratory, compared the mechanical accuracy of cadaver spines with that of 3D printed spine models. These researchers demonstrated that the range of motion offered by the 3D printed lumber vertebrae models, compared to previously published research on human spines, was indeed accurate.
In the report “Additive Manufacturing In Orthopedics: Markets for 3D Printed Medical Implants,” published in 2019, SmarTech Analysis states that orthopedics is “one of AM’s key driving segments,” and that likely has not changed much in the last year. So it was a smart move by Stratasys to focus on upgrading the part of its Digital Anatomy solution that focuses on 3D printed bone models.
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