Physicians across the globe have relied on surgical interventions for centuries to treat complex illnesses and injuries. High quality surgical instruments have played an important role in their success. Nonetheless, healthcare professionals are constantly looking for tools that would improve patient outcomes and minimize the risk of unwanted complications. In recent times, three-dimensional (3D) medical printing and bioprinting technologies have allowed doctors and engineers to develop innovative tools that help perform invasive procedures with greater ease.
Robotic Surgical Tools
Mechanical engineering students at Brigham Young University (BYU), under the guidance of their professors Barry Howell, Spencer Magleby, and Brian Jensen, combined additive printing technology and the ancient art of Origami to create surgical tools that can fit through 3mm wide incisions. Inside the body, the tools can unfold and expand into complex devices such as D-core tools. Minute incisions allow for quick healing eliminating the need for sutures and scars. The tools are highly precise and effective as well. Researchers at BYU are now collaborating with California-based Intuitive Surgicals to manufacture their products. The company is using 3D printing to develop both the prototypes and the actual tools. The 3D printing technology is also helping Intuitive Surgicals to create instruments with fewer parts making the entire process more cost-effective and stable.
The Pathfinder ACL Guide
Orthopedic surgeon Dr. Dana Piasecki of the OrthoCarolina Sports Medicine has developed a 3D printed surgical tool to conduct ACL surgeries with improved success. Currently, most surgeons drill a hole in the patient’s tibia to remove the torn anterior cruciate ligament and replace it with a graft. The procedure is painful, and the graft often fails to anchor properly. The Pathfinder ACL Guide, created by Dr. Piasecki in collaboration with Strasys Direct Manufacturing, has a 95 percent chance of placing the graft at the right position and helping it withstand the stress associated with extensive movement. The surgical tool is made from a biocompatible and flexible metal and is significantly cheaper than the existing devices. The Pathfinder ACL Guide has been registered with the FDA as a class I medical device and can now help thousands of amateur and professional athletes to continue playing their game in spite of an ACL tear.
Eyelid Wands and Forceps
Similarly, Dr. Bret Kotlus, a New York-based cosmetic surgeon, has used 3D printing technology to create customized tools for eyelid surgeries. His stainless steel Eyelid Wand helps surgeons lift excess eyelid skin and point it to various facial structures as per the needs of the patient. The handle of the tool consists of a ruler for accurate measurements.
Dr. Kotlus has also developed 3D printed Pinch Blepharoplasty Marking Forceps that allow surgeons to mark excessive skin with a gentle ink. It comes with a round tip and a built-in ruler handle for additional patient comfort. These tools also add some sophistication to the doctor’s office at an affordable price. Close to 50 million surgical inpatient procedures are performed across the United States each year. While recent times have seen a significant improvement in the way these interventions are carried out, a lot can be done to make the process more efficient and safe. This is where 3D printing is bound to make a huge impact in the near future.