3D Printing the Impossible Dream into a Reality : Through an Orthopedic Surgeon’s Mind

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3D Mesh of a Femur

Imagine if you would: a soldier, injured in battle with a near fatal leg injury in the field due to an IED explosive.

Imagine the horror in the face of the platoon leader upon seeing such a devastating blast injury – a gaping wound with skin, muscle ripped to shreds and a gaping hole between the ends of the bones shattered beyond repair; no time to look for body parts, move the soldier to the M.A.S.H. unit and hope he survives. Temporizing debridement and dressings and splints and then shipped off to safe harbor for definitive care.

An external fixator with multiple serial debridements and surgical flaps help close the wound and control infections. Repeat surgeries for granulating pus treated intermittently by state of the art hospitals and top-notch specialists in Hamburg and DC. Eventually escaping infection, further lengthening and grafting procedures to fill the bone void with new bone, and a satisfactory outcome with a grotesque painful deformed leg hatched up by scars. A limp for life, but always a hero.

Alternatively, the hero loses viability of the leg and is left with a stump of an amputation.

How would that feel if it happened to you?

3D Mesh of a Femur

3D Mesh of a Femur

Imagine instead if you were, that same soldier, same blast, same horror. Only this time, the M.A.S.H. unit has a futuristic art biological tissue printer. In that case, stabilize the patient hemodynamically, cleanse the wound and remove dead tissue. Apply an in-vivo nano-bot scanner to the sterile field that maps out the defects and tissue vacancies to create a 3D model of the bone and soft tissue defect in the field. An output of human bone, muscle and skin to replace the defect and closure and fixation with biologically enhanced repair vectors, all 3D printed together. The 3D printer incorporates antibiotics and growth factors within the tissue model with pre-made fixation points and anchors to allow rapid reconstitution back to pre-injured state with human-guide surgi-bots.

Now, it’s just healing and rehab. But wait, the device also incorporates bone promoter therapeutics and anti-microbial agents within the structure such that, as the tissue integrates, it heals fast and allows earlier strength, motion and return to function. That same patient still returns a hero, but now with a decent pain-free leg and back to his family in one piece. No metal, no hardware to remove, full integration and reconstitution of human tissue.

How would that make you feel?

Remarkable, right?

This epithet is only intended to share an extreme of our needs today. We can achieve this impossible dream and make it into a reality through real science and an evolving field of experts that is growing. The future is only limited by our vision and our desire to pursue the limits of our frontiers at a pace that cannot be hindered by anything but our imagination.

This is simply one future of 3D printing in Orthopaedics.