With the advancement of technology, 3D printed medical implants are increasingly more common. These individually printed implants are in use in joint reconstruction and now more commonly in spine surgery.
What do Printed Implants Mean for Patient Care?
Most medical implants are made in sizes that fit most humans. The beauty of being human is that we are all unique; which can be a problem if an implant doesn’t quite match your anatomy.
The benefit of 3D printed implants is that they can be manufactured to a patient’s exact dimensions.
That sounds wonderful, but up until recently this was very expensive and impractical for most patients.
However, with the decreasing cost of the technology, the possibility of exact matched implants for patients is coming closer to reality.
In the spine world, the majority of implants are made of:
- Human cadaveric bone
- Plastic (PEEK)
- Tantalum (metal)
These range from screws and rods to cages/spacers between the vertebral bodies.
As surgeons, we are trained at making these implants fit most patient’s anatomy needs.
However, there is always that situation when I say “I wish I had an implant that did XYZ!” With the increasing use, both commercially and personally, of 3D printers, the possibility of a truly custom implant at a reasonable price is making sense.
The ability to make a Spinal implant for everyone is intriguing for me as a Doctor but also for Patients.
Think about it, an implant that fits your anatomy…. that’s exciting!
For now, K2 Spinal Implants has developed a 3D Titanium implant Cascadia that I am currently using. This implant is made to mimic the pore sizes of real bone and softens the imaging problems associated with metal implants. Las Cruces Orthopedic Associates is one of the early users of this product.
To summarize, technology is changing our world, and more personally, Spine Surgery. I am excited about what the future holds as a physician and as a future patient.
How the Printed Implants are Made and Work
Dr. Paul Saiz
Las Cruces, NM