Johannesburg. BRICS 2018 Skills Challenge at Gallagher Estate 02-10-18. Additive Manufacturing (3D printing). The task is to print, scan and reverse engineer a hand and check dimension accuracy and design a splint/cast for it. A completed 3D print of a hand. Picture: Karen Sandison/African News Agency(ANA)
DURBAN - Orthopaedic surgeons will be able to plan and practise a lot better for procedures, thanks to 3D printing.

With the support of the Faculty of Medicine and Health Sciences, doctors at Stellenbosch University and Tygerberg Hospital’s Division of Orthopaedics have created a 3D printing laboratory and are now employing 3D printing techniques to create models of patients’ anatomy.

Until recently surgeons have been relying on 2D images, like X-rays, CT scans and MRI scans to assess ailments and fractures that affect their patients.

Doctors can “recreate” any anatomical structure by importing a 3D image - obtained from 3D medical scans such as CT or MRI - into a software programme, which then enables them to print a plastic 3D model of the image.

3D printing is not a new technology, but has been considered too costly for everyday use until recently.

Orthopaedic surgeon Dr Rudolph Venter said it was a novel way for surgeons to visualise their patients’ anatomy.

“It can help surgeons plan and perform procedures with a greater measure of safety and efficiency.”

Venter said orthopaedic procedures required a great deal of pre-operative planning.

“The planning has always been visual. However, having a 3D model of the patient’s anatomy allows you to plan for the operation in a whole new way. For example, not only can you see the tumour you need to remove, but you can also feel it.

“Or you can physically plan where you are going to make the bone cut to correct a deformity.”

He said that owing to 3D printers becoming more affordable surgeons could now use the technology and that orthopaedic surgery was a good place to start this “journey of discovery” because the work was very tactile.

3D printing also enables surgeons to create patient-specific instruments that aid with surgery.