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3D Printed knee

In the last decade, 3D printing exploded into the public mind like never before. Low barrier-of-entry costs for rudimentary machines introduced a new hobbyist class of additive manufacturing (AM) enthusiasts. 3D printing has made headlines with its unique ability to produce highly distinctive and individualized products. Something that the world hadn’t thought was possible until, all of a sudden, it was. 

As the pioneer of it all, 3D Systems was already building toward 3D-printing excellence before it hit mainstream newsstands. To be sure, hobbyists continue to ignite the enthusiasm of the public (and make some great headlines). But industrial-powered AM like 3D Systems provides can impact healthcare in two distinctive ways: providing the AM technologies needed to personalize implants and instruments, as well as the workflows and expertise to make them practical for use in real clinical cases. This isn’t possible from somebody’s garage, nor is it feasible using traditional subtractive manufacturing methods. This is what companies like 3D Systems deliver that no one else can: personalization of complex biocompatible parts, delivered through proven, FDA-cleared workflows. 

And what could be more personal to each individual than a surgical implant? And what is riper for continuous improvement than the way we provide patient care? 

An Old Model of Medicine

Medicine often works by a set of tacit principles. One of them is that human beings are basically the same. While there are infinite varieties of illnesses and ailments, treatment courses and interventions themselves admit very little variation. While this principle has been an effective model to efficiently distribute care, it fails to capture the complex variation in human beings that are obvious even to a layman. And not only is every patient different, but every provider is too. There was no way for the old model of medicine to account for this fact. 

Personalized medicine is challenging this model, and it’s finding a capable partner in 3D printing. Through the use of advanced AM, 3D Systems is partnering with manufacturers to make tremendous leaps in providing patient-specific solutions as a full-service package, including end-to-end preoperative planning workflows—tailor-made for surgeons and their patients. 


Vantage Ankle PSI: An Example of a Changing Model

PSI Ankle

3D Systems and Exactech pioneered an innovation in 3D printed medical devices, developing Vantage® Ankle PSI for Exactech’s Vantage® Total Ankle System. Orthopaedic surgery has been exploring the benefits of patient-specific instrumentation for some time now, but solutions like the Vantage Ankle PSI are making these cases more practical and efficient.

The need: Total ankle arthroplasty is a surgical procedure that replaces the entire ankle apparatus with prosthetic parts. It can be an extremely effective treatment for arthritis. It’s also a very popular form of arthroplasty: it has an 8.4% compound annual growth rate. 2026 will see it bring an expected $327 million in revenue . Using VSP® surgical planning, our team and Exactech’s saw a unique opportunity to bring personalization to these procedures through the collaborative development of patient-specific cutting guides.

The solution: Based on medical imaging data from the patient, 3D Systems produces nylon osteotomy guides that are biocompatible, sterilizable, and completely patient-specific. 

The results: For the patient, the result is a better healing outcome and recovery process, which is likely to mean a higher quality of life. ,  For the surgeon, a personalized surgical plan, implants and guides can mean less time in the operating room and patient-specific devices have been shown to improve outcomes.2,3

This is just one example of 3D-printing rising to suit the unique characteristics of all parties involved in orthopaedic surgery. Imagine if you could get personalized tailoring at the same level of availability and for the same price as an off-the-rack suit. In fact, let’s stretch the metaphor to make it even more appropriate: imagine that somehow your whole ability to walk and get around depended on having a good suit. This is the kind of transformation we’re witnessing in orthopaedic surgery, thanks to advances in 3D printing. 


A Lesson in Collaboration

While none of these advances are possible by 3D printing alone, personalized healthcare solutions, like the case of Vantage Ankle PSI, are particularly suited to its high degree of flexibility. 

More importantly, this kind of precision medicine would not have been possible without collaboration. Our personalized healthcare solutions are built entirely on this concept. We work closely with device manufacturers and healthcare professionals to create solutions that perform better for both surgeons and patients.2,3,5,6 Through our work with Exactech, we were able to work alongside an enthusiastic team of surgeons and researchers—and we were able to take their technology and expertise even further. Our team brought AM expertise and a robust digital workflow to the table, along with the kind of regulatory understanding that can only be hard-won through experience. For their part, Exactech brought an expert design team and a deep understanding of surgical implants. 

And while 3D Systems and Exactech both brought unique skills and histories that were working splendidly on their own, it’s only together that they formed a solution like Vantage that speaks to the needs of all stakeholders in a surgical procedure. This collaboration has been ongoing for over a decade, by the way, already producing the first 3D-printed orthopaedic implant that was cleared by the FDA. 

As collaborations like these continue to revolutionize patient care, we can expect innovations like Vantage Ankle PSI to see new popularity over off-the-shelf medical implants. Medicine has always been personal. But now, because of AM, it’s becoming personalized.  

1 Wiseguy Research Consultants Pvt Ltd (2019). Total Ankle Replacement Market 2019 Overview, Industry Opportunities And Outlook to 2026. Medgadget. 
2  Roser SM, Ramachandra S, Blair H, Grist W, Carlson GW, Christensen AM, Weimer KA, Steed MB: The accuracy of virtual surgical planning in free fibula mandibular reconstruction: comparison of planned and final results. J Oral Maxillofac Surg 68:2824-2832, 2010
3  Patel A, Levine J, Brecht L, Saadeh P, Hirsch DL: Digital technologies in mandibular pathology and reconstruction. Atlas Oral Maxillofacial Surg Clin N Am 20:95-106, 2012
4  Sink J, Hamlar D, Kademani D, Khariwala SS: Computer-aided stereolithography for presurgical planning in fibula free tissue reconstruction of the mandible. J Reconstr Microsurg 28:395-404, 2012
5  McCormick S, Drew S: Virtual model surgery for efficient planning and surgical performance. J Oral Maxillofac Surg  69:638-644, 2011
6  Hirsch DL, Garfein ES, Christensen AM, Weimer KA, Saadeh PB, Levine JP:  Use of computer-aided design and computer-aided manufacturing to product orthognathically ideal surgical outcomes: a paradigm shift in head and neck reconstruction. J Oral Maxillofac Surg 67:2115-2122, 2009