While the impacts of 3D printing are indeed far-reaching, the medical industry stands to gain as much as any from this fast-growing technology. Following in the footsteps of patient-specific surgeries and treatments such as skull and jaw implants, as well as custom-molded mouthpieces for sufferers of sleep apnea is the first spinal fusion surgery performed using a 3D-printed spine cage.
Used as a treatment for conditions such as disc degeneration and spinal instability, spinal fusion surgery is designed to help separate bones grow together in a solid composite structure. Where the spine cage comes in, is in 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 3D printing in spinal fusion surgery lies in the ability to tailor it to the patient's anatomy. Paris-based orthopedic implant manufacturer Medicrea used custom software and imaging techniques to produce a Polyetherketoneketone (PEKK) spine cage, customized to perfectly fit a particular patient's vertebral plates.
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The surgery was performed in May, with the surgeon since hailing the procedure a success, due largely to the role of 3D printing.
"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," said Dr. Vincent Fiere, the surgeon who performed the procedure at Hospital Jean Mermoz in Lyon, France.
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.