Media Studio's 3D printing lab takes a step forward

Facial reconstruction, complex joint replacement surgery, prosthetic limbs – the use of 3D printing in medicine and surgery is exploding. 

Stories of new ways to use 3D prints to help improve treatments appear in the news almost daily, so it is very exciting to be on the verge of establishing a 3D printing lab in Media Studio.

What is it?

Three-dimensional printing uses a technology called additive manufacturing to build objects from computer-generated models. The printer builds the model by laying down one layer at a time until the full three-dimensional shape emerges. Different materials can be used, including various plastics and even metals. Our printer will use a plaster material, bonded with acrylic to produce a hardened finish that is particularly suited to replicas of bones. It can also print full-colour models for prototyping from computer-aided designs.

Bone replicas for surgical planning

With this technology accurate models of bones can be made from CT scans. At CUH, Consultant
Maxillofacial Surgeon, Malcolm Cameron, has successfully used 3D models to plan complex reconstructions for patients who have suffered facial trauma. Technicians in the maxillofacial laboratory use the replica of part of the skull to act as a guide for making a metal implant. Before 3D printing became available, much of the shaping of the implant would have taken place in the operating theatre while the patient was asleep, so this technique saves time and money as well as helping to reduce risk.

The technique is equally valuable in orthopaedic surgery. Here, a large defect in a shoulder bone has been caused by repeated dislocations of the shoulder joint chipping away parts of the socket, known as the Glenoid. The surgeon has in his hand a near-perfect replica of the damaged bone so that he can carefully plan the exact size and shape of the bone graft he needs to create from a donor site. Being able to plan the procedure in advance to a higher degree of accuracy helps to make the outcome more predictable and saves precious time in the operating theatre. 

The 3D Print Lab

The idea of bringing 3D printing in house was started when Research Radiologist, Dr Karen Eley, came to CUH having completed her PhD in a related topic. It started to become a reality when the Trust's charity, ACT, agreed to raise the money to buy a professional-grade 3D printer, together with the work needed to convert an old store room adjacent to Media Studio into a 3D printing laboratory. With building work about to begin, the machine purchase out to tender and a new 3D Printing Technician post established, we should be ready to start printing in a few weeks' time.