Jan 20, 2015 | By Alec

You might have noticed that 3D printing is ‘hot’ in the medical world. More and more (at times live saving) 3D printed applications are being developed that are making the lives of doctors and patients easier than ever. And just now, a new medical procedure relying on 3D printing has been successfully tested in Hong Kong, that could make treating bow legs easier than ever.

Just to clarify, bow legs are a deformity in the legs, from the knees to the ankles. It is typically caused by bone conditions such as rickets that cause ossification of the bone. These curve in or outwards to form the shape of an archer’s bow. While that might not seem terrible at first sight, sufferers overwhelmingly experience pain whenever walking or doing anything at all, while they are very likely to suffer from additional bone and cartilage related complications in later life.

This condition is commonly treated by pinning the bones into a normal position with a large external frame that is attached to the bones directly through the skin. The frame has to stay in place for months, often up to a year, requiring a lengthy stay in hospital and a vast number of subsequent hospital visits for repeated rounds of pinning and disinfection of pin wounds. And even after that, the road to rehabilitation is a long and painful one.

And that is exactly what makes this 3D printing innovation so promising, as it can correct bow legs without the need for lengthy hospital stays, painful treatment, and months of living with a metal pinned in your flesh. The technique has been pioneered by dr. Liu King-Lok, who led the study at the Chinese University of Hong Kong. It revolves around 3D printed replicas of a patient’s deformed bones, that will enable doctors to accurately prepare the instruments that will be surgically attached to the bones. In short, it ensures a perfect fit for the metal plates and screws.

Image: Huang Jun Xin (Apple Next Media)

Bottom: Dr. Liu King-Lok.

Liu decided to test the new approach in 2013, and has since used on four patients – all with satisfactory outcomes. Liu told Chinese media that it is "a very big trial which has achieved very positive results. This has profound implications for the technology to be applied in other bone surgery."

One of the patients, the 24-year-old woman called Ann, was born with bow legs that grew progressively more painful in later life. "My knees and my heels hurt whenever I walked, which affected many aspects of my life," she said. "The doctor said I needed surgery. But the traditional correction treatment is so terrifying. I didn't want to wear the external frame for a whole year, with all those needles visibly piercing my legs."

The results in Ann.

Instead of a lengthy hospital stay (in some cases up to 200 days!) Ann was able to, as were the other four patients, walk out of the hospital unassisted four days later. A further operation is needed several months later to remove the pins and plates, but that’s it. An external fixator to keep everything in place isn’t even needed; Orthopaedic surgeon Chen Yingqi (though not involved in this operation himself) believed that an external fixator would only be necessary in severe cases in which nerves and blood vessels were extensively damaged.

And here’s more good news: while you do need accurate bone scans to properly chart a patient’s bone deformity and subsequently print it, bypassing a traditional external fixator can cut operation costs by $5000. Even necessary rehabilitation time was also relatively short at just two months, meaning patients are set to benefit financially too.

This means the technology will definitely be a very affordable option in the near future, especially as it can also be used for less common congenital skeletal deformities (and even bone tumors). As this was just a trial, it will likely take years before this technique can be widely deployed in the medical world, but it is nonetheless very great news for patients everywhere. It’s becoming increasingly evident that hospitals everywhere are going to need to add a 3D printer to their arsenal as soon as possible.



Posted in 3D Printing Applications


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alvaro wrote at 1/20/2015 4:07:31 PM:

Who dares wins

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