Oct 14, 2015 | By Benedict

Six-year-old Helena, a young cancer patient with a big passion for dancing, has had a tumour in her upper left leg removed, which would normally have required amputation. Additive manufacturing firm Materialise, in collaboration with a team of medical experts, were able to construct a 3D-printed model of Helena’s leg, which enabled surgeons to operate with a higher degree of precision. This added precision ultimately made the difference between Helena losing or keeping her leg.

Doctors initially thought that young Helena’s malignant tumour was related to a bone infection. Unfortunately, medical imaging revealed the tumour to be bone cancer. This in itself was bad news, but the placement of the tumour made things even worse. It being so close to Helena’s knee meant that, under normal circumstances, the whole knee joint would have needed removing. This is because a 3cm margin is generally required when performing such an operation. What with the tumour being less than 3cm from the knee, amputation looked like a real possibility.

The possibility of amputation caused a great deal of worry for Helena’s mother, not only because of the trauma inherent to such a procedure, but because of the young girl’s love of dancing. Her mother feared that such an operation would have permanent negative effects upon the child’s life.

Images from Materialise

This is where 3D printing came to the rescue. Dr. Gwen Sys, orthopedic surgeon at University Hospital Gent, saw that 3D Printing could offer a better solution, reducing the 3cm margin and avoiding any damage to Helena’s knee joint.

Dr. Sys collaborated with 3D printing giants Materialise to create a 3D printed model of Helena’s bones, using images from MRI and CT scans—a process which will be familiar to our regular readers. The exact 3D printed replica was then closely studied by surgeons, who were able to formulate a much more precise surgical plan based on their experience with the model. Using data from the scans shown on a screen would not have allowed the surgical team to understand the shape and location of the tumour quite so accurately, and the 3cm margin would have been necessary.

In addition to the model of Helena’s bones, Dr. Sys had surgical guides designed and 3D printed especially for Helena’s operation. The use of surgical guides ensured an accurate transfer between the planning to the surgery proper. Materialise’s 3D printing expertise allowed the team to construct metal plates, printed in titanium. Helena’s knee joint was saved, and no amputation was required.

“3D Printing technology makes it possible to remove malignant tumors in an extremely meticulous way,” explained Dr. Sys. “It’s truly patient-specific.”


Posted in 3D Printers



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