Sep 22, 2014 | By Alec

It seems like 3D printing technology is finally being used to its full potential in the field of medicine, as more and more success stories are surfacing. We are very happy to report that 3D printed implants and prosthetics are being used to improve the lives of patients all over the world, while complicated medical cases are also being solved through 3D printing. Only last week, for instance, we were able to report that a Chinese man had recovered from a complicated surgery where a 3D printed mesh was placed over his brain.

And this week, another complex medical case was solved using 3D printing technology. Surgeons from theTaipei Veterans General Hospital have successfully treated an orbital bone fracture with 3D printing technology.

The patient in question is a 35-year-old man who was in an unfortunate car crash that left him with a fractured orbital bone surrounding his left eye. It also caused his eye to sink into his skull, leaving him suffering from diplopia, or double vision. Not only does this condition seriously hamper a patient’s ability to see, if left untreated it can cause infections and a number of other life-long side effects.

Surgeons first made a 3D scan of the patient’s eye sockets based on stereoscopic images. These were used to develop a 3D-printed mock-up of the orbital bone, which helped them to determine the scope and severity of the fracture bone plate. Maxillofacial Surgery was first done on the virtual and the plastic mock-up of the fracture. This allowed them to develop a customized, suitable titanium bone plate that could restore the man’s bone structure and return his eyeball to the correct position.

Surgery lasted for several hours, but doctors were able to successfully conclude the operation. Thanks to the titanium implant, the patient’s eye has returned to its normal position. As of yet, no complications or infections have occurred. The symptoms of diplopia have also disappeared, putting ‘the patient’s life is back on track’.

Wu Zhengxian, Oral maxillofacial Surgeon at Veterans General Hospital in Taipei told reporters that the anatomical structure of the maxillofacial region is highly complex and difficult to operate on. It is filled with delicate neurovascular tissue, so surgery can easily affect the patient’s appearance and functioning. Furthermore, the area is rich in nerves and blood vessels, so surgery can also lead to unnecessary complications. While a fracture in the orbital bone could already be treated, it relied greatly on the physician’s familiarity with the anatomic location and the clinical experience he has accumulated.

Fortunately, 3D printing and scanning technology has become capable of producing highly accurate models of the patient’s condition. Not only do these allow doctors to more closely inspect the patient’s condition, it also allows them to perform mock surgeries that will help them recognise and prepare for various problems that can occur.

In the Taipei Veterans General Hospital, it is already being used in the treatment of various facial, orthodontic and dental conditions. While currently not widely used throughout the world, these applications of 3D printing can potentially greatly increase success rates. The costs involved remain an obstacle to widespread use; patients in Taipei will have to pay an additional fee of up to 70,000 Taiwan Dollar (approximately $2500) per surgery. In Taiwan, at least, insurance doesn’t yet cover the costs for this additional preparatory step.

Furthermore, while this application of 3D printing technology seems very promising, Wu Zhengxian went on to stress that this form of comuper-assisted surgery is still very novel. It still needs to be carefully assessed in its usage and effects on surgery, before its maximum potential can be realised. It nonetheless appears to be very promising, especially when applied to hitherto complex or impossible cases.


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