Mar 3, 2016 | By Tess

Here at 3Ders we often write about how 3D printing technology has helped people around the world become healthier, fuller human beings through its various and growing number of medical applications. It is not everyday however, that we hear first hand from someone personally affected by the medical capabilities of additive manufacturing, so when Materialise’s Corporate Communications Manager and 3Ders' longtime friend Vanessa Palsenbarg shared her own personal story we were extremely moved.

Palsenbarg posing with her 3D printed spine

Palsenbarg, who has worked at Belgian 3D printing company Materialise for nearly six years, has suffered from scoliosis for almost her entire life. While she underwent many professional consultations, wore numerous back braces, and even underwent surgeries earlier in her life, Palsenbarg never found a solution to her curved spine and had all but given up on fixing her back.

Palsenbarg's 17th birthday, after one of her treatments

She told us of her current state, “My condition is stable, but the operations I received in the past unfortunately did not improve my condition due to complications following the first procedure. I am not sure if I will need further treatment in the future, but as I get older, pain is increasingly an issue and already limits some of the things I am able to do, especially with sports. Therefore, I would love to find a solution now rather than waiting until I am really in trouble.”

Part of this potential solution has been enabled by Materialise’s own 3D printing medical division, which decided to take on Palsenbarg’s case to see how they could help her with their state-of-the-art 3D modeling and printing technologies. For those perhaps unfamiliar, Materialise has done some exceptional work in the field of medical 3D printing, by developing X-ray knee and shoulder guides for surgeons, 3D printed prostheses, and various other 3D printed medical applications.

The team at Materialise worked with a CT scan of Palsenbarg’s spine, and using Materialise Mimics inPrint technology was able to turn the medical data into a 3D model of her spine. Upon seeing an image of her own spine in this format, Palsenbarg was shocked, but impressed. She explains, “I stared at the screen shot for much of the evening. Despite seeing my spine in x-rays year after year, for much of my life, I had never seen my spine quite like that before.”

Once the digital 3D model was generated, the team 3D printed Palsenbarg’s spine in Materialise’s medical production facility, and let her pull her own 3D printed spine out of the bed of powder, which she says was a truly surreal experience.

Not only a novelty, however, the 3D printed spine and 3D digital model of it could help Palsenbarg to give doctors and surgeons the insight they need to find a way to fix her back. As she explained to 3Ders, “Around 11 years ago, I was told by an orthopaedic surgeon that due to the 3D nature of my curve, he was hesitant to operate because they would not know what they were really dealing with until I was open on the operating table. He could therefore not guarantee that I would not come out with my shoulders completely lopsided, but a straighter spine. Since then, I have just kind of ignored my spine, assuming that solutions would be too hard to find.”

Now, armed with her anatomically correct 3D printed spine, Palsenbarg is more confident that doctors will be able to help her as they will be able to visualize and better understand how exactly her scoliosis afflicted back is shaped. What is particularly remarkable about Vanessa Palsenbarg’s story is that not only did 3D printing give her a physical copy of her spine, but it provided her with a renewed hope that perhaps her scoliosis could be fixed. As she begins her search for a surgeon in Belgium, where she is living, we at 3Ders are wishing her the best of luck and hope to soon write a happy follow-up story!



Posted in 3D Printing Application



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