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A brief overview of the current landscape of 3D printing in surgery

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Whilst 3D printing may not be new technology, the uptake of 3D printing for surgical applications is growing and offering novel, creative opportunities for personalized care. 3D printing technologies have been making their mark in medicine in many different areas, from pharmaceutical design to personalized, bioresorbable implants. Facilitating surgical teams both inside and outside the operating room, the adoption of 3D printing in surgery solutions is on the rise and is well positioned to be a fundamental instrument in the operating room of the future.

How is 3D printing already being used in surgery?

Surgeons around the world have reported tremendous success with complex surgical cases following the adoption of 3D printing technologies in cases including kidney transplants, surgical resection and even the separation of conjoined twins.

3D printed models are already being used in preoperative consultations to explain complex procedures to patients, based on their own 3D imaging data. Real-world case studies suggest that personalized 3D printed models could prove instrumental to developing an advanced and inclusive patient education model satisfying international consent guidelines, surgical teams and patients alike, especially for complex cases.

3D printing in surgery
A model of a heart being 3D printed at the Innovation Hub at Alder Hey Children’s Hospital, by 3D LifePrints.

Personalized models have made headlines as tools for preoperative rehearsal, whereby surgeons and surgical teams are able to practice strategies and techniques, identify potential complications and determine solutions in advance.

Cutting guides have also proven successful products of 3D printing as surgeons may find that they do not have to rely on (informed) guesswork when making critical cuts. Cutting guides printed from 3D imaging data can be used to guide precise incisions, individual to the patient’s anatomy, condition and requirements.

Finally, stories reporting 3D printed implants are emerging, from standard metal plates which perfectly fit individual patient anatomy to bioresorbable breast implants. Whilst some companies are routinely producing implants for complex cases, debate remains over-regulation and the suitability of appropriate materials.

3D printing in surgery
Two pediatric cardiothoracic models on display in the Innovation Hub at Alder Hey Children’s Hospital, printed by 3D LifePrints.

What are the benefits of 3D printing in surgery?

Depending on where you are in the world and how your health system/service is set up, 3D printed models, guides and even implants could save hospitals huge amounts of time and money – both of which can subsequently be invested into other priority areas.

Furthermore, reducing the time of a procedure also reduces the time a patient is maintained under anesthetic which comes with further benefits, including reduced risk of infection, improved recovery times and quicker discharge from postoperative care.

Where are the challenges of adopting 3D printing technologies into surgical workflows?

One of the main challenges is a question of regulation. Currently, very few regulations exist specifically covering 3D printing practices and these typically cover the software required to render and design the print in the first place as, realistically, this is the stage in the workflow where any errors are likely to occur.

What does the operating room of the future look like?

With ‘digital health’ emerging as a breeding ground for innovators investigating opportunities for harnessing technologies such as AI, AR, VR and 3D printing amongst many others, it is hard to say how the typical operating room may evolve to improve the patient experience with surgery and to accommodate new, exciting technologies. However, it is my opinion that 3D printing is set to hold a fundamental position in the future of surgery.

If you would like to find out more about 3D printing for surgery, 3DMedNet hosts many free resources including the latest news, webinars and expert interviews. 3DMedNet will also be hosting 3DMedLIVE: 3D printing in surgery in London (UK) from 2–3 October 2019: a dynamic, conversation-led and solution-focused conference, with the patient at the heart. Find out more and book your ticket at o click on the banner below.

Georgi Makin

Georgi Makin is the Editor for 3D printing in medicine website, 3DMedNet. 3DMedNet is a free, 3D printing community website for the sharing of expert insights and the latest news covering all aspects of medical 3D printing. Georgi has worked in science communication since 2016 and was previously Editor for industry publication, Bioanalysis Zone. She reports on the latest developments from around the world, is an Ambassador for multiple women in science initiatives and is passionate about diversity and inclusion in STEM.

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