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Friday, February 03, 2017

Revolutionizing Medicine

"Think of this as the first cellphone 3D printer]. It's going to get smaller, less expensive, more powerful, but the concept will be the same."
"It will help surgeons actually understand complex anatomy before they get into the operating room."
"There's no better way to learn anatomy than to hold it [3D model] and spin it around in your hands."
Dr. Frank Rybicki, chief, medical imaging, The Ottawa Hospital, Ottawa, Canada

"In a 3D printing lab, it's much easier and much faster to make this kind of prosthetic."
"This is what the future of medicine looks like."
"We just take the measurements, run it through a CAT [computer assisted tomography] program, and we print it."
Dr. Adnan Sheikh, medical director, 3D printing program, The Ottawa Hospital

Dr. Frank Rybicki, Chief of Medical Imaging at The Ottawa Hospital, along with Dr. Adnan Sheikh, sit in front of the new 3D medical printer, capable of printing custom prosthetic.  Postmedia Network

 A replacement hand was printed at The Ottawa Hospital recently using the newly acquired $400,000 3DStratasys printer. Photopolymers, not ink, is what is used for this printer to produce its miracles. The printer is designed to emit thin layers of the liquid photopolymer onto a "build tray", in layer after layer, following a pattern instructed through a computer program. Exposure to ultraviolet light hardens the polymer instantly, and in its intricate layering of layer after thin layer, the three-dimensional object it is instructed to produce takes its shape.

And, in this instance, a prosthetic hand had been programmed. There was a client ready and eagerly waiting to receive that prosthetic hand. A young man whom a motor accident had deprived of the fingers of his left hand. David Chasse, 33, was driving his motorcycle on Highway 417 in June of 2015 and suffered the misfortune of being struck by a speeding van. Four fingers were torn from his hand. He was a security guard and was en route to work, dressed in his uniform which included a bulletproof vest. He suffered no other injuries, likely thanks to the vest.

David Chasse, who had most of his hand ripped off in an accident in June, 2015, receives the first artificially-printed 3D hand.                     Photo: Julie Oliver, Postmedia

The severed fingers were collected at the scene by an Ontario Provincial Police officer and taken along with Mr. Chasse, to doctors at The Ottawa Hospital where the digits were reattached. But the effort was in vain, since blood flow could not be re-established, leading to the amputation of the reattached fingers once gangrene set in. Hearing about the work being done at The Ottawa Hospital with 3D medical printing, Mr. Chasse contacted Dr. Rybicki to ask whether a printed prosthetic could be made available to him.

Dr. Rybicki is the chair of radiology at the University of Ottawa and as well has been at the front end of 3D medical printing. He was one of a team of Boston-based medical researchers using 3D printing at a time when they were planning to conduct the first face transplant ever performed in North America, in 2011. The printing lab at The Ottawa Hospital recognizes a number of vital functions, one of which will be to assist surgeons in preparation for complex surgery.    

Detailed anatomical models are to be printed from computer-processed radiologic images to enable surgeons to hold and examine a model of the body part they are preparing to operate on. The 3D models have the capacity to familiarize the surgeon with the precise shape of a tumour as well as its placement adjacent to bones, blood vessels and muscles alongside the tumour. This new process will render to surgeons an opportunity to visualize and practise steps in the excision of a tumour or in the transplanting of a kidney.

Research has demonstrated that this methodology is capable of reducing surgical errors as well as of shortening the length of operation time. Moreover, training medical students is made simpler with the use of the models. And the models represent as well an excellent tool through which patients may be educated before they give consent to complex surgery. Although it is yet early days, Drs. Rybicki and Sheikh plan to acquire additional printers for their lab, using various types of materials.

The new generation of 3D printers use such materials as silicone, titanium, rubber, and human cells. The printing of surgical instruments, knee implants, hip joints, dentures; even body parts like bones, ears and muscle tissue are being seriously contemplated for the near future. The final and most critical step representing the brave new world of medical technology will have been reached when researchers succeed in printing functional human organs for transplantation into patients.

David Chasse, who had most of his hand ripped off in an accident in June, 2015, receives the first artificially-printed 3D hand. Photo: Julie Oliver, Postmedia

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