3D printing is seeing increasingly widespread adoption in the medical field, with numerous examples of applications that help surgeons accurately plan cosmetic surgery. Now, the potential of 3D printing is being examined by hospitals treating patients who are fighting for their life.
The ETZ (Elisabeth-TweeSteden Ziekenhuis) is one of the eleven trauma centers in the Netherlands. As the only center in the country with trauma surgeons on location 24 hours a day, it serves as the main location for emergency patients in North Brabant. 3D printing has already been used to visualize bone fractures, but pioneering researchers believe it can also be used to help treat trauma patients.
Mike Bemelman, MD, trauma surgeon at the ETZ, had already seen the potential of 3D printing back in 2016. Together with Lars Brouwers, MD, PhD-candidate, and Koen Lansink, MD, trauma surgeon, they have started conducting research into the benefits and effectiveness of 3D printing, compared to traditional and other new technologies. Their idea is to 3D print scanned bone fractures in order to give both surgeons and patients a clear understanding of each situation, before operating.
Before 3D printing
In order to prepare for an operation, surgeons will analyze CT scans of the patient. Getting an exact idea of each situation is challenging, even for an experienced surgeon. CT scans are converted into a 3D reconstruction, enabling surgeons to examine it virtually on a computer screen. While this has improved the ease of understanding each situation, it has limitations: surgeons sometimes find it difficult to orient the model, and 3D reconstructions are viewed on a 2D screen, lacking a realistic sense of depth.
3D printing fractured bones
Lars started using the Ultimaker to print fractured bone structures, allowing surgeons to analyze a fracture not only by looking at it, but also touching and rotating it, which gives important added value to the operation planning process. Using water-soluble PVA support material, complex, organic geometries can be accurately reproduced with small cavities and important details included.