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Health & Fitness

3D technology breaks new medical ground

 3D printed prosthetic
A patient (right) receives a 3D printed prosthetic support at Togo’s national orthopaedic and physiotherapy centre in Lome. Using 3D printing to make prosthetics allows them to be produced quicker and reach a larger number of patients. AFP PHOTO  

Medical advances have come a long way over the years. While doctors now have the ability to translate medical imaging through X-rays, computerised tomography (CT), magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) or ultrasound, the revolution has not stopped there.

Three-dimensional (3D) printers have brought manufacturing inside hospitals in Kenya, thus allowing doctors to break new ground in patient management. Chris Muraguri, Founder of Micrive Infinite, which partners with surgeons to provide 3D printing services says they offer a variety of products that range from patient specific anatomically accurate models to surgical guides.

Speaking during a 3D printing in healthcare symposium at the Aga Khan University he said the technology has made it possible to reconstruct faces for patients who have been damaged after suffering from cancer, gunshot wounds or even accidents. He says that maxillofacial prosthetic teams convert patient CT scans into 3D printed replica models, bone replacement parts or metal prosthetic plates using 3D printing. All three of the components can be customised to fit the exact specifications for each patient.

“Specialists used a CT scan to create a 3D reconstruction of the man's face. A replica of his mouth was then 3D-printed and used as a template to produce a model, which was then hardened and fitted with teeth. With the prosthesis adjusted to fit snugly in place, the man's chewing, swallowing, speaking and other mouth movements considerably improved,” Dr Muraguri said.

The 3D technology is not limited to face reconstruction, Heart Specialist and Associate Professor at University College London, Dr Andrew Cook , says that it can be used in practice surgery especially in complicated cases like heart surgeries.

“It makes it possible to do pre-surgical planning and practice surgery where doctors can print models using CT scans. This saves time because the surgeons go in already knowing what approach to take,” said Dr Cook.

He added that the form of printing also improves the safety of the patients since they have trained on the 3D anatomy and already know all the intricacies of the actual parts.

“Each patient’s body parts are unique and the 3D printing enables doctors to know the exact anatomy before the surgery and this is important,” he said. The Aga Khan University Hospital CEO Shawn Bolouki says these are just the tip of the iceberg in terms of the benefits 3D printing will bring to the field of medicine in the coming years.

He adds that it will be interesting to see how the technology develops and that the institution is looking into ways of setting it up.

The use of 3D printing for medical products follows success in other key industries such as automotive. Companies globally are now routinely printing titanium engine parts, customising dashboards of high-end cars, turning out jewelry and eyeglass frames and developing rocket engines.

Reuters reports that American giant firm, General Electric Co., which makes metal 3D printers as well as parts, and has invested more than $3 billion in the business, is promoting the technology to show its possibilities and spur broader use.

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