s4Every day it seems like another incredible medical application for 3D printing emerges. Whether it’s affordable customizable prosthetic devices, the actual printing of biological material, or the numerous surgeries that are made safer and are performed quicker and more precisely thanks to 3D printed medical models, lives are constantly being improved and even saved on a regular basis now.

Along with the United States, China is leading the way, particularly within the 3D printed medical model space. We’ve see a number of complicated, delicate surgeries performed with greater knowledge and confidence thanks to 3D printed models that replicate the human anatomy.

One such surgery recently took place at the Orthopaedic Hospital of Zhengzhou City in China, where a 28-year-old woman named Yan had suddenly begun suffering from numbness and difficulty standing, walking, and grasping items. Up until that point Yan had been a normal, healthy young adult, but when she went in for an exam, doctors found that her third cervical vertebra had a serious congenital malformation. This caused Yan to suffer from a condition known as atlantoaxial dislocation, causing the nerves near the rear of her spinal cord to compress. This compression led to the lack of feeling and movement that Yan had been experiencing.

A: front view of three-dimensional model, B: a three-dimensional model of the left posterior view, C: rear view of the three-dimensional model

A: front view of three-dimensional model, B: a three-dimensional model of the left posterior view, C: rear view of the three-dimensional model

This was a difficult condition to operate on. As you probably know, the spinal cord is one of the most delicate areas within the human body to operate on or around. One small mistake by surgeons could turn an otherwise healthy patient into a quadriplegic within seconds, or even worse, cause death. It was a difficult situation for the doctors, but after repeated consultations Dr. Mei Wei and fellow staff members at the Orthopaedic Hospital of Zhengzhou City decided that the best way to go about the surgery would be to practice first on a near-exact 3D printed model of Yan’s actual spine.s3

The team used X-ray and CT scan data to formulate a 3D model, which was then sent off to a 3D printer where the replica spinal column was fabricated. In the past surgeons would rely solely on 2D imagery from the same medical data, making it incredibly difficult to gain a thorough understanding of the entire procedure that they were about to perform.

This procedure was extremely complicated as surgeons would need to free soft tissue from the site, reset the dislocation, and then screw everything back together without damaging the patient’s nearby spinal cord. With the miracle of 3D printing they were able to rehearse the delicate procedure so that when they finally did make the actual incisions and perform the subsequent procedure, it was accomplished rapidly and precisely.

s2Following the procedure earlier this month the patient has already reported significant improvement, with the reduction of numbness and improved strength in her extremities. Surgeons certainly could not have performed this complicated procedure as confidently as they had if it were not for the role that 3D printing had played.

It’s rather astonishing how quickly such technologies are being adopted in the medical industry. Within a matter of a few years the technology has shoved its way into hospitals and surgical centers around the globe, and according to researchers and surgeons this is only the tip of the iceberg.

Let’s hear your thoughts on yet another amazing use of 3D printing within the surgical arena. Discuss in the 3D Printed Spine forum thread on 3DPB.com.

 

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