There’s never been a more exciting time for those who work with 3D scanning and printing technologies. Concepts that have long since been the stuff of science fiction are not only becoming a reality, but they are proving to become vital developments in the world of medtech. The latest of such sci-fi technologies is the introduction of 3D scanning and printing for next-gen prosthetics and custom-made implants.
Anatomik Modeling, a company that specializes in designing and developing 3D custom-made implants and prosthetics, has begun to roll out its platform of personalized 3D printed solutions that can be uniquely designed to fit the anatomy of each patient. The company uses Artec 3D scanners that can provide three-dimensional data quickly and accurately, allowing for patients to be scanned in a standing position so that prosthetic and implantable devices can be custom-made to fit their body with absolute precision. But, while the technology is here, the materials are still a little bit behind.
“3D printing is infusing more and more in the medical devices area,” said Benjamin Moreno, chief technology officer and associate for Anatomik Modeling. “To date, we use 3D printing for our 3D custom-made medical devices, allowing us to create 3D anatomical models of pathological structures for pre-surgery and the planning of complex surgeries for medical universities to teach anatomy and pathology. For now, we have to use elastomers, which are medical-grade silicones. Even if we start to see some 3D printers that are able to print with elastomers, they would still be far away from the necessary quality for most medical devices. So for now, we are waiting on future achievements in elastomeric 3D printing.”
Moreno said that the company is now working on using 3D printing for intermediate manufacturing techniques, but holding off on using them for any real-world medical devices. Most of the recent developments up to this point in medical device manufacturing that utilize 3D printing techniques have relied on printing metallic parts, such as an implant for a knee or hip implant. The idea of 3D printing mixed materials or even biomaterials remains in the research and development phase, as there is still a long list of regulatory and safety issues that stand in the way of progress. However, the 3D custom-made implants that have been created so far are certainly showing promise for specific applications.
“3D custom-made implants are well suited for specific diseases and pathologies where standard medical devices have a high rate of complications, or where no treatment option exists,” said Moreno. “Pectus excavatum is one of the most common thoracic congenital deformities, and our study published in the Plastic and Reconstructive Journal showed an enhancement of 30% patient satisfaction when using our 3-D custom-made implants for pectus excavatum.”
The company has also seen promising results for their next-gen 3D custom-made airway stents that are currently being used in several different clinical trials — proving that as exciting as the times are for 3D printed prosthetics and implants, there’s still plenty more to come.
“Custom-made medical devices are improving patient care because they fit each patient’s anatomy and specificity,” Moreno said. “My opinion is that 3D-printed medical devices are not just a goal in and of themselves. From our perspective, 3D printing is simply a tool in our toolbox. The future is about being able to use a wider range of materials and biomaterials. This is taking time because of regulations and certifications to ensure patient security and safety, but more and more 3D-printed implants have the capability to treat more and more diseases and pathologies — and even more will be coming to the market in the upcoming years.”