Can 3D printing revolutionise spinal implants?

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Redd Warburton

Redd Warburton, a senior executive search consultant specialising in orthopaedics and spine,  has been exploring how 3D printing has the potential to revolutionise the manufacture of spinal implants. Here is a summary of her findings. The full article, produced in collaboration with Osseus, can be found on the CSG blog.

Additive manufacturing, also more commonly known as 3D printing, has become an increasingly interesting topic for those operating within spinal surgery. 3D printing has the potential to revolutionise the industry in the coming years, with the production of additively manufactured orthopaedic and medical implants expected the grow by 29% CAGR through to 2026.

Companies within the medical device space are now investing in 3D printing technology, with industry leaders like Stryker announcing plans to invest €200 million in research, development and innovation at its Cork site.

How 3D printing technology is changing spinal implants

Additive manufacturing enables customisable implants to be made, which can be used where a patient requires a more specific reconstruction, and where off-the-shelf product wouldn’t be suitable. The possibility to now use customizable implants has allowed surgeons to operate when previously it would have been very difficult, if not impossible. This allows for patients’ recovery time to be minimised.

There are also benefits for bone growth with 3D printed implants. I spoke to Chase Tipping, a Product Development Engineer from medical device company Osseus, for his perspective on how 3D printing is improving the adherence and growth of bone cells on implants: “3D printing allows us to create porous titanium implants with shapes and structures that could never be achieved with traditional manufacturing. These uniquely porous implants allow for the insertion of larger amounts of bone graft and open new space for bone to grow through compared to traditional implants. 3D printed titanium also gives us the ability to add nano-scale and micro-scale surface roughness that encourages bone cells to adhere to and grow on the implant. This combination of porosity and surface roughness allows 3D printed implants to take a more active role in the fusion process; encouraging bone to grow on, in, and around them.”

The limitations of adopting additively manufactured spinal implants

Whilst utilizing tailor-made 3D printed spinal implants is a great prospect, it still has many limitations. Affordability is a key issue in terms of the equipment and software needed, however this should subside once adoption rises and costs reduce. The process for the bespoke design and print of spinal implants is lengthy, meaning that in emergency situations this option is not viable.

As well as being a costly and lengthy process, surgeons are hesitant to use this approach due to there being no standardised framework for patient-specific implants currently.

As an executive headhunter specializing in the orthopaedics and spine sector, technological innovations like 3D spinal printing, are often limited by the availability of talent across certain skill sets, such as the need for design engineers to work alongside spinal surgeons. For hospitals to successfully carry out the design and print in-house then they will need to invest the engineers themselves, and additional training for the surgeons.

What does the future look like?

It is unlikely that additively manufactured spinal implants will be utilized for all patients requiring surgical implants at the moment, however it is highly beneficial within niche cases. There is hope in the future that implants could be available in hours and produced in-house within hospitals. Training and support need to be given to surgeons to help encourage the adoption of customized implants as well as ensuring there is investment in professionals with engineering support.

References

  • SpineUniverse, 3D Spinal Implants: A Glimpse into the Future
  • THE LANCET Digital Health, Challenges in the Design and Regulatory Approval of 3D-Printed Surgical Implants: A Two-Case Series
  • 3D Printing Industry, Stryker Allots Share of $225.8m to Develop 3D Printing R&D in Ireland
  • 24-7 Press Release, Additive Manufacturing for Orthopedic Implants to Generate More Than $1B in Revenue Opportunities by 2026 Says New SmarTech Publishing Report

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