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Custom 3D-Printed Orthopedic Implants Transform Joint Replacement Surgery

By HospiMedica International staff writers
Posted on 22 Apr 2024
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Image: The sophisticated 3D printer can manufacture custom-made joint replacements for highly complex cases (Photo courtesy of HSS)
Image: The sophisticated 3D printer can manufacture custom-made joint replacements for highly complex cases (Photo courtesy of HSS)

The evolving field of 3D printing is revolutionizing orthopedics, especially for individuals requiring joint replacement surgeries where traditional implants fail to provide a solution. Although most people find that standard implants—which are available in various sizes—meet their needs, there are exceptional cases that demand a more tailored approach. Now, physicians are using a sophisticated 3D printer for manufacturing custom-made joint replacements suited for highly complex cases when a standard “off the shelf” implant cannot be used.

For patients requiring complicated reconstructive surgery, using 3D printing to customize a joint replacement has been a game-changer at the Hospital for Special Surgery (HSS, New York, NY, USA) which was the first hospital in the U.S. to house a 3D printing facility onsite for custom implants. Over a decade ago, physicians at HSS began using 3D printing to create an exact plastic replica of patients’ knees, hips, shoulders, or elbows to prepare for complex surgeries. Today, the physicians have progressed to manufacturing titanium implants using 3D printers for patient use. 3D printing offers the capability to produce complex shapes and designs faster than traditional methods.

These implants are manufactured from fine titanium powder poured onto a platform and leveled. A laser or electron beam is used to heat the powder layer and melt the material, which fuses to the layer below after which material is added layer by layer to create the implant. Developed for specialized cases such as severe deformities, extensive bone loss, or previous unsuccessful joint replacements, these bespoke 3D-printed implants can dramatically improve or even save patients' limbs. Tailored specifically for the individual, these implants have alleviated severe pain, enabling previously wheelchair-bound patients to walk and offering new hope to those needing complex or redo joint replacements in hips, knees, shoulders, or elbows.

“We get a CT scan and from that we can create an actual model of the patient's joint to help with planning the surgery before we go into the operating room,” said Mark Figgie, MD, chief emeritus of the Surgical Arthritis Service at HSS. “Having the model before surgery has revolutionized the planning process of these difficult cases, helping us make sure we’re doing the right thing and getting the right fit.”

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