Of all of the benefits that additive manufacturing has afforded modern society with, perhaps none of them can amount to the significant impact that additive manufacturing has had on the health and medical industry.
Previously, we’ve seen not only how 3D printing can be used to produce low cost and customizable prosthetic devices for both children and adults, but also for more serious cases such as aiding in the production of anatomically-correct models of a patient’s body part or region that can be studied by a team of doctors prior to a highly-complex surgical procedure.
Of all of the places we’ve seen how additive manufacturing has been having a significant impact in the health and medical industry, China has repeatedly been using the technology in a range of surgical procedures. More recently, the combination of 3D scanning and 3D printing technologies were used to help repair a young woman’s leg that had been damaged for over a decade due to a childhood car accident.
The woman, Xiaoqian, had been living for over a decade with a severely deformed right leg due to a serious car accident when she was just seven years old. Among other injuries that the young Xiaoqian suffered at the time included a mangled tibia bone. Over time - as Xiaoqian’s bones continued to grow as she matured into an adult - her right leg began to grow with an unnatural and noticeable bend, which also made her right leg significantly smaller than her left.
It wasn’t until 2014 - over a decade after the accident - that Xiaoqian was able to go to the Xiangya Hospital in the Hunan province of China and be evaluated by medical experts in the search for a solution to repair her leg. At the time, the surgeons were able to correct her knee, however one of the doctors - Dr. Tang Juyu - wanted to operate and repair Xiaoqian’s more severe problem: her severely bent tibia.
Similar to how we’ve heard of similar procedures in the past including everything from pelvic surgery to spinal surgery, Dr. Tang Juyu called upon 3D scanning and 3D printing technologies to create an exact replica of Xiaoqian’s leg using CAT scan data and 3D modeling to optimize a model that the surgical team could practice operating on.
Because they were able to practice multiple procedures without the pressure of having a live and sedated patient, Dr. Tang Juyu and the rest of the surgical team were able to devise a comprehensive tibial multi-plane correction osteotomy surgical plan for Xiaoqian’s tibia and practice the procedure in advance.
Thankfully, through splicing the leg into a ‘S’ shape before manually rebuilding it and holding it together with reinforcing plates and screws, the surgical procedure was deemed a success after the pre-planned three-hour procedure.
Thanks to the ability to practice a range of solutions for repairing the leg in advance of the surgery, Dr. Tang Juyu and the rest of the surgeons are actually the first to use their unique ‘S’-splice procedure for rebuilding a leg...which may not have been possible to plan without the use of a 3D printed leg replica.
“We transformed Xiaoqian’s ‘big bend deformity’ into one of several “small bends’ by using osteotomy,” said Dr. Tang Juyu. "It requires recovery time and a rehabilitation program. But after that, she can walk just like a normal person."