Israeli doctors have developed a method of using a 3-D printer to facilitate delicate and complex operations.
According to Makor Rishon, physicians at the Galilee Medical Center in the northern Israeli city of Nahariya used the technique to treat a woman whose eye socket was badly damaged in a car accident.
The doctors scanned the patient’s face and then used a 3-D printer to produce an exact replica, or “simulation,” of her skull.
This allows the physicians to plan the complex restorative operation, practice on the model and create the specific implant to be used to repair the eye socket.
Professor Samer Srouji of the hospital’s Oral & Maxillofacial Surgery Center said of the technique, “Once you have a complicated case, a very complicated fracture, and you want to know how to approach it and treat it, you can print the broken parts, ‘operate,’ and connect the parts outside, prepare the plate for transplantation, and then do the surgery in a much more predictable and less complicated way.”
In contrast to more cumbersome, invasive procedures used in the past, he said, today “we open a small incision and immediately put the prepared implant in it.”
“The new thing is that we control the process in hospital laboratories, which reduces costs and raises the level of accuracy,” he noted.
This, Srouji added, gave medical staff “full control before we do the operation.”
Srouji is bringing this technique to foreign audiences, having recently attended a conference in Brazil where he gave lectures on using 3-D printers to treat trauma injuries.
Ran Bronstein of 3D Systems said of the technique, “In the past, doctors had no way of practicing for surgery except on animals or dead bodies or, in desperate situations, on the body of the patients themselves. This technology has brought the world of medicine to a place where it is possible to provide doctors, like pilots, with simulators that allow them to practice procedures that are not open surgery.”
As a result, he said, “Doctors can practice and improve their skills before surgery, thus reducing the likelihood of error.”
In addition, the technique offers the advantage of having an exact model of the patient’s anatomy, Bronstein stated.
“When you create a flight simulator you have the technical specifications of an airplane,” he said, “but in the simulation of the person, no one has the data on the specific model. The anatomy of everyone is different, and this is not a simple technological task; it’s almost like gathering intelligence on the battlefield.”
With the new technique, however, the computer “can analyze anatomical models and read MRI and CT scans, understand the anatomy, and print a model of the organ for training — and even implants for the surgery itself.”