From wheelchair to walking using 3D printing

1 December 2015

Epworth's Professor Richard de Steiger has created a breakthrough solution for a patient with a lifetime of arthritic problems. Mrs JC was confined to a wheelchair although only in her sixties, having suffered severe rheumatoid arthritis and having her first hip replacements at the age of 28, followed by multiple surgeries in later years. She sought out Richard because she was experiencing severe pain as a result of fractures through her femur and pelvis and presented with severe bone loss in the acetabular socket.

Following surgery and rehabilitation at Epworth in October, she is now able to weight bear using a frame.

Richard says that orthopaedic and reconstructive surgery has benefited enormously over the last few years from the rapid advances in 3D printing applications.

“3D printing and other varieties of material processing involve computer-directed layer-by-layer synthesis of materials and offers potential for new and exciting biomaterials to be manufactured to meet increasing population needs.

“The reconstructive devices usually involve a preoperative CT scan which acts as the template. Segmentation of the bony anatomy is relatively straightforward and this allows printable models to be generated.

“The 3D printed parts were made in Belgium by a company Mobelife. Using CT scans of Mrs JC’s pelvis, 3D anatomical models were generated to mimic the implants in situ and then we constructed new implants to take in account her bone loss. The three-dimensional computer models were later manufactured from titanium using a 3D printer. Titanium has excellent biocompatibility, osseointegration and a relatively low elastic modulus which can mimic bone” Richard says.

Richard, who has more patients receiving 3D printed implants, says the whole process takes approximately six weeks and does require liaising with private health funders to ensure that the patient can be reimbursed for a major part of the procedure.

“The use of 3D printed custom parts provides safer surgical solutions for very complex problems than what is otherwise available. Prior to this technique, surgery would require the use of off-the-shelf screws and plates that have to be bent to conform to the patient’s altered anatomy. With 3D printing the implant is manufactured to suit the existing anatomy which makes surgery safer, quicker and less complicated.”

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Photo of the 3D printed implant used in the reconstructive surgery.