Western Cape surgeons use 3D printing to plan and practice procedures

Doctors from Tygerberg Hospital’s Division of Orthopaedics along with those from the Faculty of Medicine and Health Sciences at Stellenbosch University have created a 3D printing laboratory and are now utilising 3D printing techniques to create models of patients’ anatomy as preparation for surgical procedures.

Orthopaedic surgeon and anatomy lecturer Dr Rudolph Venter explained that this was a novel way for surgeons to visualise their patients’ anatomy, and an enabling tool for planning procedures. “It can help surgeons plan and perform procedures with a greater measure of safety and efficiency.”

Orthopaedic procedures require significant amounts of pre-operative planning, and having the technology available at their disposal is something the doctors are very excited about.

“The planning has always been visual. However, having a 3D model of the patient’s anatomy allows you to plan for the operation in a whole new way. For example, not only can you see the tumour you need to remove, but you can also feel it. Or you can physically plan where you are going to make the bone cut to correct a deformity.”

“It’s like having this amazing, tactile road map of the patient’s anatomy inside their body. Something that was out of reach for most patients is now done for people walking off the street into Tygerberg Hospital – 3D printers are now very affordable and the software is so easy to use. The orthopaedic surgeons are learning how to do it.”

Out of the 10 cases where the technology has been employed, seven have been for public health care patients.

“It’s going to open a lot of doors. We’re very excited for the implications of training medical students, and it’s awesome to have our patients benefit at grass roots level.”