Nov 16, 2015 | By Alec

Of all the applications of 3D printing technology, none is more important than the medical. And though 3D printed organs and more are still years away from use, patients everywhere are already benefiting from a simpler solution: 3D printed surgical models that can be used by surgeons to prepare a particularly difficult operation. While we’ve seen a wide range of different models already, the 25-year-old Chinese welder Pan Yong was helped with a particularly interesting version: a 3D printed ribcage, on which all seven fractures are perfectly visible.

This model was necessary after Pan Yong suffered a particularly harsh injury in early November. While working on a construction site in Yueyang in the Hunan province, the welder was hit in the chest by a massive five-meter long steel column weighing at least hundred kilos. The pillar suddenly smashed him in his chest, resulting in seven completely fractured ribs. ‘It was very painful, but I was very lucky that it didn’t hit me in the head, or the pillar would have completely smashed my brains out of my skull,’ the young man says of the injury.

The unfortunate welder was immediately sent to a local hospital, and was subsequently transferred to the cardiothoracic surgery ward of the Hunan Provincial People's Hospital two days later. There, the complexity of the situation quickly became apparent. Ribs two to eight where completely smashed up, having been fractures in multiple locations and pressed together. The patient also suffered from lung contusion and right pneumothorax, making breathing very difficult and coughing impossible. While a single fracture can be easily fixed, the plurality of the fractures made things difficult for the surgeons as the chest wall is softened. And as Pan Yong is also a bit fat, doctors found it very difficult to locate the precise position of rib fractures and agree on the necessary incision site.

That’s where 3D printing comes in. To get more information about the fracture positions and to minimize incision trauma, cardiothoracic surgeon Zhang Gong, along with Director Yang Jinsong and Professor Liu Yiqi, opted for 3D printing solutions. Making a 3D model of the patient’s thorax bone, rib fractures and scapula with the help of a chest CT scan, they made a scaled 3D printable model. 3D printed in photosensitive resin, they ended up with a highly accurate model of the problem area, which enabled the surgeons to accurately plan the upcoming surgery. With the help of this model, the decision was made on how to internally fixate the bones into position. The model was also used to inform the patient and his family, to ensure they understood the procedure and all the complicating factors involved.

The surgery itself began on November 9, when Pan Yong underwent VATS exploration and open rib fracture fixation surgery. His right lung was also repaired during the same session. While normally expected to last more than three hours, the preparations enabled by the surgical models cut that time down to just two hours. The operation was also less invasive, reduced anesthesia time and blood loss, and optimized success chances. The likelihood of infection was also minimized, and Pan Yong was discharged from hospital less than a week later – another excellent example of what even commercial 3D printing technology has to offer to the medical world.



Posted in 3D Printing Application



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