Surgeons hope hi-tech print technology will help injured soldier to walk again
A HI-TECH printer supplied by a Derbyshire firm that can produce three-dimensional objects is being used in pioneering surgery that could revolutionise knee operations.
OPS, in Woodyard Lane, Foston, has provided an Objet Eden 250 3D printer that is helping surgeons plan the reconstruction of the knee of a British soldier, which was smashed by a bullet while he was serving in Iraq.
The OPS printer has been able to produce a 3D model of the knee and patterns for the titanium plates that will hold the joint together.
The machine has also been able to produce cutting guides, which will allow surgeons to conserve as much of the existing knee as possible, reducing the need for them to reconstruct ligaments, which speeds up the patient's recovery time.
Professor Justin Cobb, from London's Imperial College Healthcare NHS Trust, based at Charing Cross Hospital, who will be carrying out the operation, took delivery of the machine from OPS at the start of the year.
Since then, Prof Cobb, along with his research assistant Dr Susannah Clarke, have been using the printer to plan the operation.
He said: "This operation using 3D printing technology is a world first for reconstructive surgery, providing total liberation to the surgeon and opening up a completely new approach to the operation."
Prof Cobb said having a 3D model to work from would allow greater accuracy during surgery and help him to re-configure the damaged areas of the bone more quickly. He said it would avoid the need to replace the whole knee joint.
Once the bone has been reconfigured, custom-made implants are then robotically inserted into the patient.
In the run up to the operation, the Objet 3D printer has gone through 80 different trails over the past six months. It has also been used in three clinical trial experiments to research elements of the operation.
According to Prof Cobb, the Iraq war veteran, who was shot above and through the knee joint, currently leads a life in which he is still "virtually lame", despite previous operations.
But he said that the precision and accuracy of the new surgery should make a big difference. He said: "This new approach to reconstructive surgery should be able to re-establish his quality of life."
Prof Cobb said the process could also help to reduce costs.
"Not only should the new approach to the process speed recovery, especially in young, otherwise healthy, limbs, it should add value by reducing key operating theatre times from around 40 to 30 minutes and considerably reduce costs due to the number of different surgical instruments that need to sterilised from the normal four or five trays to just one."
OPS managing director Andrew Fulton said: "We have been almost overwhelmed with the widely different uses where 3D printing is being applied.
"OPS is now involved with schools, where the technology is making aspects of engineering design and manufacture come alive to pupils.
"It is being used in F1 race cars, the latest aircraft, dental reconstruction and the design and development of hi-tech sports equipment, such as rackets, helmets and shoes.
"It really is the dawning of a new age in engineering that just can't be ignored."