Surgery is generally a pretty delicate process. You don’t want to just dive in there scalpels blazing; you want to have a pretty good plan of what you’re going to do. That being the case, many surgeons like to, or would like to, take a look at models of the actual bones they’ll be working around. Unfortunately, the companies that make such models tend to require notice far in advance. Also, they tend to require a veritable boatload of cash. That’s where 3D printing comes in.
Mark Frame, a trainee surgeon in the U.K., made the money-saving, potentially revolutionary discovery that instead of working with traditionally manufactured models that can often cost as much as the surgery itself, surgeons can get 3D printed bones from CT scans at a fraction of the cost. There’s actually a company in the Netherlands that provides such a service. In addition to being orders of magnitude cheaper than traditional models, these 3D printed ones are available pretty quickly, about a week or so in the mail. And what with 3D printing becoming cheaper and more accessible, one day they might even be available on site.
Models aren’t exactly necessary for surgery, but they certainly help by giving surgeons a chance to aquaint themselves with the target zone. As a plus, the models aren’t even covered with blood, or attached to a pesky human. This is especially helpful in situations where surgeons are dealing with particularly unique or damaged bones. Granted, they can look at images on a computer, but actually holding them in their hands is much closer to the surgery experience and it allows them to examine all the qualities of a given area by look or feel.
All in all, it’s a pretty common sense realization in retrospect, but even common sense realizations have to be made for the first time. Hopefully the fad will catch on, allowing surgeons everywhere to adequately study for complicated procedures, and maybe even uncomplicated procedures, since you never really know what to expect. A paper on the process is currently under review for publication, and with its release, we can only expect that more and more surgeons will be trying the process out. 3D printing, what can’t it do?