3D printing enables customized knee replacement surgery

4 pictures

The implants and instruments produced by ConforMIS are tailored to each patient's anatomy

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In today's installment of "How 3D Printing is Changing Healthcare Forever," a Massachusetts-based medical device company is forging new ground in knee replacement surgery. A combination of CT imaging, modeling software and 3D printing technology is enabling ConforMIS to offer implants tailored specifically to each patient. The development could help avoid complications that often follow the procedure, such as pain arising from instability of the joint.

One of the most promising applications of 3D printing in medical fields is its ability to produce patient-specific devices. We have recently seen 3D-printed implants enable a teenager to walk again, substitute cancerous vertebra in the neck, enable customized spinal fusion surgery and replace upper and lower jaws.

Knee replacement surgery is a procedure undertaken by around 700,000 people annually, according to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention. Issues that can arise range from minor blood loss and infections, to the threat of deep venous thrombosis. But the team at ComforMIS believes it can improve on traditional methods by steering away from generic, "off-the-shelf" implants to a more customizable solution.

The company's approach is much like others used in the production of 3D-printed implants. A CT scan is taken of the patient's hip, knee and ankle, with the company's specialized software converting the scan into an exact 3D model of the patient's deteriorating knee. Using this model, personalized implants and instruments are made as one-off devices, produced, in part, by 3D printers.

The company claims that its implants will mimic the curves and feel of the patient's original knee, eliminating many of the problems that typically accompany the procedure. One recipient compared the ConforMIS' implant to a traditional knee replacement she had back in 2001.

“Time-wise in the hospital, less time,” Mary Cowles told CBS Boston. “Physical therapy was much easier. I got movement so much faster. If I didn’t see the scar on it, I would assume it was my normal knee."

The video below provides an overview of the ConforMIS approach.

Source: ConforMIS

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