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Medical applications in 3D printing are expanding and can be organized into several categories: tissue and organ reproduction, customized prosthetics, implants and anatomical models, and pharmaceutical research. One application that is often used is the production of anatomical models for surgical preparation so that medical teams can accurately study 3D models of a patient’s body. Having a palpable model of a patient’s anatomy available for a physician to study or to simulate the surgery is better than relying only on CT scans and MRIs, which make it harder to visualize and gather all the required information.
Using 3D printed models for surgical training is also an alternative to training on cadavers, which are harder to find and expensive. Also, even though cadavers are an adequate representation of general anatomy, they do not mirror the actual anatomy of the patient being treated.
This technology also helps in improving patient-doctor relationships. A palpable 3D printed model helps to establish a more efficient communication and a better understanding of the patient’s situation. Therefore, it can reduce patient insecurities, and prevent complaints and dissatisfaction .
Three-dimensional models are often used by orthopaedic surgeons for surgical planning, mostly in revision and reconstructive surgery and making patient-specific instruments or implants. Orthopaedic surgeons use CT image scans and 3D modeling software to create print files representing a patient’s bones. This technique is mainly used for complex cases to reduce the duration of surgery and the risk of complications like infections. Based on a patient’s preoperative CT or MRI, an anatomically accurate three-dimensional model of the patient can be printed out directly. Surgeons can make more accurate diagnoses and detailed surgical planning, and are more readily aware of the surgery risks. Furthermore, surgeons can conduct surgical simulations and operate directly on the physical models. Therefore, surgery time may be shortened and surgical outcomes may be improved.
3D printing is an innovative technique and is being widely applied in medicine. Its advantages are obvious since it can create an accurate physical model and allow surgeons to have a better understanding of the complexity of the patient’s anatomy prior to surgery. In addition, it can make surgical cutting guides according to patient geometry to increase resection accuracy. However, it has its limitations. First, the technology is expensive. It includes hardware, software, maintenance and the cost of printing materials. The 3D products are usually patient-specific and, as a result, production costs are high and unlikely to decrease .
Another issue in customized 3D printed models is the time required to produce the models. It is variable and dependent on the size and complexity of the physical parts. Depending on the type of printing machines, the actual printing process can be long. This may limit its clinical application, especially for emergency procedures.
3D printing is an innovative technology that is being used in various fields. Although the technology is not yet commonly used, with further development and its increasing popularity, its use in preoperative surgical planning, implant design and even as a training tool is likely to become widespread very soon.
Marie-Anne Valiquette obtained a Bachelor's degree in Mechanical Engineering at the École de technologie supérieure (ÉTS) in Montreal. She lives in Silicon Valley, California where she studies artificial intelligence through online platforms like Udacity and deeplearning.ai.
Program : Mechanical Engineering