3D printing is being used to validate patient surgery prior to an operation, helping to reduce the length of surgical procedures and leading to a substantial reduction in theatre costs.

UK-based Replica 3DM is using Stratasys Objet24 and Objet30 Pro 3D printers in 12 National Health Service (NHS) hospitals to convert patient CT scans into physical 3D printed models that are used as surgical guides to  test  implants for size and fit pre-surgery.

The process includes rebending of titanium implant plates to the patient’s exact specifications and pre-operative investigations across maxillofacial, orthopaedics, neurology, spinal and ears, nose and throat wards, to identify the correct procedure and improve the outcome.

The company also produces a number of cranioplasty models in which the unaffected side of the patient’s face is mirrored to produce a 3D printed reconstruction, prior to the fitting and placement of a titanium plate.

“To us, 3D printing and the medical profession go hand-in-hand, particularly in the planning of complicated procedures,” explains Matthew Sherry,  MD and founder of Replica 3DM. “A 3D model equips surgeons with a hands-on perspective which cannot be achieved by looking at a computer screen. They can easily rotate, inspect and analyse each surgical procedure on a case-by-case basis, enabling them to pre-bend implants knowing that they will perfectly fit the patient.

“This is instrumental in eliminating potential problems during operations and can be used as a visual aid when explaining the surgical procedure to patients.”

He says the ability to use 3D printed models to pre-bend titanium implants has reduced surgery time significantly. “In the past, surgeons would depend on surgical experience to fit the plates during  surgery. This could not only be quite costly, it may also crucially require longer patient anaesthesia  times,” he  explains.

“As demonstrated in a recent maxillofacial procedure at Salisbury District Hospital, the ability to  pre-bend the titanium plate prior to surgery enabled surgeons to secure the perfect custom fit. This reduced the number of incisions required and overall theatre time, directly impacting the quality of patient care.”

This also leads to a reduction in the cost of surgery, he points out.