3-D Printing Comes Online

Sandra Gittlen, April 18, 2016

Using 3-D printing techniques, complex structures such as heart openings can be designed with such accuracy that implants work better and recovery from surgery is improved.

Using 3-D printing techniques, complex structures such as heart openings can be designed with such accuracy that implants work better and recovery from surgery is improved.

This article first appeared in the April 2016 issue of HealthLeaders magazine.

Three-dimensional printing in healthcare has received a lot of attention as a gee-whiz, futuristic technology, with photos of prosthetics for injured soldiers and children. But 3-D printing is about to get a whole lot more personal. Sophisticated imaging and modeling means that complex structures such as heart openings can be designed with such accuracy that implants work better and recovery from surgery is improved.

"3-D printing already is becoming more patient-specific, and that will continue. Instead of having different sizes that you have to fit the patient into, implants will be modeled from the patient's own anatomy," says Joseph Lipman, MS, director of device development at Hospital for Special Surgery in New York City. Physicians at HSS perform more than 29,000 surgical procedures annually.

The 3-D printing market is expected to reach more than $4 billion by 2018, according to a 2014 report by Visiongain, a London-based intelligence provider. Not only are the printers being used to customize medical implants but also the associated models, guides, and tools.

HSS uses stacked 2-D scans to create detailed 3-D images that can then be printed using ABS plastic. Use cases are increasingly sophisticated. For instance, a recent surgery involved a hip replacement complicated by bone that had grown around a previously implanted plate. The surgeon used a 3-D printed model to practice removing the plate to make the surgery more effective and efficient.

"Surgeons are tactile, and before we could only show them 2-D pictures and they'd have to create the 3-D image in their head," says Lipman, who collaborates with HSS' orthopedic surgeons on 3-D modeling and printing. "Now they have a 3-D physical object to give them a sense of scale and help visualize how to cut the bone and better align it."

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