Though 3D printing is still a foreign concept to most of us, it has been used in medicine since 1999, when researchers from Wake Forest Institute printed a sort of skeletal structure to support a human bladder. That innovation was coated with patients’ own cells, which generated tissue that was not at risk for rejection during transplant.
The entire structure was later successfully implanted into patients. Since that time 3D printing in medicine has grown exponentially and has been particularly helpful in spine surgery applications.
Spine surgeons have initially used 3-dimensional prototypes of new implants. These were made of plastic to make sure that they fit and were viable, but now are being printed using metal. The process has become so refined that implants are now made with porosity that allows for better tissue integration and faster healing.
The technology permits spine surgeons to print models of a patients’ spinal bones and joints using CT scans. This allows for meticulous pre-surgical planning and observation of the spine in three dimensions.
Surgeons are now able to accurately assess the types and sizes of screws that should be used, as well as to create implants to stabilize the spine that fit perfectly for the patient.
Though 3D printing is currently in use for only the most complex cases, many spine surgeons are predicting that there will soon be “off-the-shelf” implants available that will help patients heal faster, grow new bone and have greater flexibility.
Even more exciting is the possibility that surgeons replacing damaged or diseased vertebral discs will be able to 3D print flexible discs specifically suited to each patient, right in their own offices or within hospital locations. The printers would produce materials that are already sterile and ready to use in patients.
Looking further into the future spine surgeons are predicting that, at some point, emergency departments will be equipped with this technology so that patients suffering spinal trauma can have implants created and used immediately.
In addition to creating the parts that are needed to repair broken or damaged body parts, the availability of on-demand 3D technology is expected to assist surgeons whose instruments are damaged during a procedure, or who need to create something highly specific for intricate surgeries immediately rather than placing an order and having to wait for the equipment to be delivered.
Most importantly, having access to 3D printing technology is expected to make a significant improvement in patient outcomes and comfort. The implants that are created using 3D technology are designed specifically for each patient and are able to provide greater comfort and support of important body structures. Patients will be able to recover more quickly and more comfortably.
As technology improves, so too does the ability of spine surgeons at our lumbar spine specialty practice in New Jersey to provide you with the relief that you need. Contact us today to set up a time to come in for a consultation.