In June 2019 3DMedNet announced that, in partnership with the Journal of 3D Printing in Medicine, they were organising the first ever event aimed at bringing together the many medical practitioners, engineers, technicians, SMEs and service providers working within the area of 3D printing (also known as additive manufacturing) in medicine. With experience in 3D printing and a background in medical devices, both Alex and Marianne were keen to attend this event so that they could better understand the interactions and synergies between these two technical areas.
Following a welcome address, day one of the event started with presentations by surgeons from a range of disciplines all of whom focussed on how 3D printing can enable best practice and advance surgical applications. In particular, Lorna Marson explained that imaging, simulation, assisted reality (AR), virtual reality (VR) and robot assisted surgery are expected to make surgery safer and less invasive in the future. Adrian Sugar described how 3D printing can help doctors ensure that they Get[ting] It Right First Time (GIRFT), an NHS improvement programme intended to improve patient outcomes and avoid unnecessary costs. Presentations given later in the day covered a range of clinical case studies, strategic matters such as regulation and operational matters such as quality assurance.
Day two of the event began, after a short welcome, with a talk by Amy Alexander from the Mayo Clinic in the US. Amy talked about how their Anatomical Modelling Laboratory, which has grown significantly over the past few years and continues to expand, collaborates with surgeons for surgical planning, training, creating surgical guides and pre-forming implants. All of these elements can contribute to improved patient outcomes. Later talks focussed on how to obtain approval for, and subsequently commercialising, products in the medical devices sector.
After lunch Kenny Dalgarno, a professor from Newcastle University, discussed bio-printing and bio-fabrication which aims to print biological structures with biological material. The use of 3D printing in prototyping for medical devices was discussed by Alex Berry of Sutrue Ltd. When developing their suturing device they made extensive use of 3D printed components, particularly in their drive mechanism. The teeth on some of the metal gears in that mechanism are just 0.4mm long and 3D printing allowed the cost effective creation of a large number of prototypes.
One of the great benefits afforded by 3D printing within medicine is that surgeons who are considering how best to perform a complex surgery can use 3D printed models of parts of the patient (or patients). 3D printed models can be physically manipulated to determine, for example, how a donor kidney from a parent can best be connected to a child’s blood supply during a transplant operation. This pre-planning can involve many professionals across multiple disciplines, all of whom are able to give their opinion in advance of the surgery.
Although such planning can be carried out virtually using software rendering, surgeons have identified advantages associated with using a physical object, including improved depth perception. Using 3D printed models gives surgeons the ability to reduce the number of decisions that need to be made under pressure during surgery, which can reduce operation times to the benefit of the patient and the hospital. 3D printed models of patient anatomy, for example an aortic aneurysm, can also be used by surgeons to practice a difficult surgery before starting a procedure on a patient. It is even possible to connect the 3D print to fluid pumps to simulate the pulsed flow of blood through vessels during such practice runs to more accurately simulate the conditions under which surgeons will be working.
3D printing can also be used to provide personalised implants tailor made to fit a particular patient and this was discussed not only in connection with human patients, but also animal patients. Although this may not be cost effective for straightforward surgeries it affords clear benefits in more complex surgeries such as those hip revisions when a previous hip replacement has failed. Such surgeries are significantly more likely to fail compared to an initial hip replacement. Therefore, the additional cost of preparing a custom made implant can be offset by the cost savings associated with the significantly increased chances that an operation using such an implant will be successful. Surgical guides which fit to a particular patient in only one location can also be produced that can help a surgeon to make cuts, or place screws, exactly where required according to a pre-surgery plan.
This event was a fascinating introduction to this area of technology. We enjoyed listening to the case studies presented by surgeons, discussing the technical aspects of 3D printing with those providing services in this area and learning of new innovations. Hopefully this will become an annual event as it will be interesting to see how this technology develops over the coming years.
If you have a medical device or 3D printing innovation, or have any questions about the above, please do not hesitate to contact Alex Bone or Marianne Privett, or any of the medical devices team. You can also follow the AAT Medical Devices group on twitter @AAT_MedDevIP