Additive manufacturing has been a boon for many industries, not the least of which is medicine. In the past few years, medical researchers have been able to use the technology to generate custom-made implants for patients, such as skull and jaw implants, or custom-molded mouthpieces for people with sleep apnea. And now, a new type of 3-D printed spine cage has been created that will assist in spinal fusion surgery.
Used as a treatment for conditions such as disc degeneration and spinal instability, spinal fusion surgery is designed to help separate bones grow together into a solid composite structure. This is where the spine cage comes in, by acting as a replacement for deformed and damaged discs, serving to separate the vertebrae, align the spine and relieve spinal nerves from pressure.
Much like its strength in other areas of medicine, the potential of 3-D printing in spinal fusion surgery lies in the ability to tailor it to the patient’s anatomy. Medicrea, a Paris-based orthopedic implant manufacturer, used custom software and imaging techniques to produce a Polyetherketoneketone (PEKK) spine cage, customized to perfectly fit a particular patient’s vertebral plates.
The surgery was performed in May, with the surgeon since hailing the procedure a success, due largely to the role of 3D printing.Dr. Vincent Fiere, the surgeon who performed the procedure at Hospital Jean Mermoz in Lyon, France, explained:
The intersomatic cage, specifically printed by Medicrea for my patient, positioned itself automatically in the natural space between the vertebrae and molded ideally with the spine by joining intimately with the end plates, despite their relative asymmetry and irregularity.
While this particular process is patent-pending, Medicrea is hopeful the breakthrough will pave the way for the development of similar implantable devices that can replace or reinforce damaged parts of the spine. Much like other implants that can be made on site and tailored to needs of individual patient’s, it will also speed up the delivery process for potentially life-saving surgeries.
C0mbined with the strides being made in the field of biomedicine (where it is used to create tailor-made organic tissues), 3-D printing is helping to usher in a future where medicine is more personalized, accessible and cost-effective.