July 23, 2015 | By Alec

While 3D printed medical applications are slowly invading hospitals all over the globe, a remarkable number of Chinese surgeons are quickly adopting this fantastic technology. Just last week, we saw how a young Chinese child received a titanium skull implant. But now doctors from the Affiliated Union Hospital of Fujian Medical University remind us that 3D printing isn’t applicable to the young. For earlier this week, they relied on 3D printed surgical models to ensure that an eighty-year-old man successfully underwent a precision spinal canal stenosis surgery in that hospital in Fuzhou.

The man in question is the eighty-one-year-old mr. Liu, who had been suffering from back pain problems throughout his life. Just two months ago, a new and sudden pain in his lower back quickly paralyzed him. Eventually coming to the The Affiliated Union Hospital of Fujian Medical University, he was diagnosed with compression of the lumber spinal nerve. Neurosurgeon Chen Chummei did a check up on mr. Liu, and found that his lumbar spinal stenosis had been narrowed down to only one-third of that of  normal person, while lumbar sections 5 and 4 suffered from peripheral bone calcification and hypertrophy of the ligamentum flavum, which put pressure on the nerves in the spinal canal.

To deal with this serious situation, surgery was needed as soon as possible to remove the spurs and relieve pressure on the nerves in mr. Liu’s spine. According to Chen Chunmei, this condition is relatively common with people over the age of forty or fifty, and he advises everyone suffering from back pains to regularly visit the hospital. For if the spinal stenosis becomes too narrow, conditions like muscle atrophy or more serious afflictions can happen remarkably quickly.

However, as Chen Chumei explained, each of these conditions is unique and complex. The human lumber spinal canal is surrounded by a number of crucial areas, including the centrum, lamina, the spinous and articular siege, as well as a number of crucial nerves that go through a narrow gap between the lamina, spinous and facet. Spinal surgery, therefore, needs to be very precise and no joints and nerves can be injured because horrendous side effects, such as permanent paralysis, are millimeters away.

To increase their chances of success, the surgical team therefore decided on the creation of the 3D printed surgical model seen above. Based on data from scans and calculations, they developed a 1:1 scale modle of the lumbar area, which enabled them to very carefully prepare. Surgery took place yesterday morning, with the 3D printed model at hand if necessary. Throughout the surgery, doctors also checked five monitors (some of which displayed the 3D image, an enhancement of the surgery underway and plain CT scans and X-rays) to increase their chances of success.

During the operation, doctors first inserted a positioning needle into mr Liu's affected area, before inserting a pen-like hollow casing as a fixture. Then, under microscopic guidance, they used an electric knife in the casing area to precisely resect yellow ligament that pressed down on mr. Liu's nerves. The whole process lasted two hours, but was ultimately successful. While usually an incision would be 10 cm in diameter – necessary for dealing with variations – the 3D printed model covered these necessities for discovering variations in preparation. The cut was therefore much smaller, increasing the likelihood of success.

The 3D printed model, in short, made the surgery itself much easier while the likelihood of success was much higher. In the end, the patient’s compression was removed, which will in turn affect all the other symptoms as well. Mr. Liu is currently recovering from the operation, but is already experiencing less pain than before. No complications or a recurrence of the problem is expected. It’s just another example of to what extent 3D printed applications can greatly increase the chances of surgical success. 



Posted in 3D Printing Applications



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