ACL injuries are a big concern for high performance athletes — in the NFL alone, there are an average of 53 ACL injuries per year. In some cases, the injury requires surgical treatment and a lot of time off. For more severe injuries, it’s career-ending.
But the ultimate consequences of injuries of the anterior cruciate ligaments is probably about to change, with the help of a new 3D printed surgical device that helps surgeons better reconstruct partial or full ACL tears and reduce the chances of re-tearing.
The biocompatible surgical device belongs to DanaMed™ Inc. and Pathfinder™ and was created by Stratasys Direct Manufacturing, an additive manufacturing service. Stratasys used Direct Metal Laser Sintering (DMLS) technology to build the tool.
The Pathfinder System
“Pathfinder illustrates how 3D printing is uniquely capable of enabling breakthroughs in medical technology that otherwise would not be possible,” said John Self, project engineer at Stratasys Direct Manufacturing, in a press release. “And by offering DanaMed 97 percent cost savings over conventional manufacturing methods, 3D printing has demonstrated its business value in bringing complex, high-quality parts to market.”
The Pathfinder System was developed by Dr. Dana Piasecki, an orthopedic surgeon at Orthhcarolina Sports Medicine. After experimenting with different surgical strategies that could optimize graft positioning, he developed the Pathfinder ACL Guide and Guide Pins. His research found that using a tool shaped similarly to the knee was the most effective.
Dr. Piasecki and DanaMed Inc. worked to perfect the design with Fused Deposition Modeling. Stratasys Direct Manufacturing, using DMLS, was able to manufacture the tool affordably, and made it possible to change the design on the fly.
An Ideal Tool
The Pathfinder tool is made with Inconel 718 material, which was optimal for mechanical requirements, biocompatability, oil resistance, and other factors. The tool underwent a series of tests before receiving registration from the FDA as a Class 1 Medical Device.
While news about the technology is just now breaking in the biomedical 3D printing community, the device is already on the market and can be used in orthopedic surgery.
For procedures involving anchoring grafts in the ACL, the Pathfinder has an impressive 95 percent success rate, meaning that it may be the perfect tool to change how successful ACL surgeries become in the long run. The technique also allows the repaired ACL to undergo the same amount of strain as a natural ACL. Other techniques are not only more complicated surgically, but increase the risk for complications and reinjury.
The Pathfinder tool is just one example of a metal part manufactured with 3D printing. Many companies have been leveraging the technology, to the point where additive metal usage is expected to almost double in the next 3 years in the US alone. As a result, Stsratasys Direct Manufacturing has made major increases in its additive metals capacity in recent months.
Image Credits: Business Wire