3D Printing Bone on a budget!

Mark Frame from RHSC Glasgow recently used CT-scan information and Shapeways to 3D print models of bones with fractures for surgery preparation. Here is his story. File under Awesome.

One day in surgery an opportunity arose, a patient needed a 3D model
created of their fractured forearm to plan their surgery to realign it.
This had already been done via a university department and the model
produced was out of proportion and only a truncated portion due to cost
issues. Even with this it was still north of $1200 for the small model. I
then realized I could do better and for less and challenged my self  to
produce a model. I trawled the blogs and the shapeways forums, gleaning
help and advise from many members of the shapeways community. Having chosen my tools I got to work.

There have been many applications of rapid prototyping within medicine, especially recently in maxillofacial (face) surgery and orthopedics (bones).  Being able to produce physical models from your 3D scan images are useful for education both of surgeons and patients, preoperative planning and procedure rehearsal, trying out your procedure before you do it in real life.

The issue has always been accessibility. Its has tended to be limited to well funded research projects or to private units with bottomless budgets. This is not the model the NHS use, especially in this financial climate.

As an orthopedic surgical trainee and a big fan of any new tech or gadgets, I couldn’t fail to have noticed this upsurge in talk about 3D printing. Filling up pages of blogs on many sites such as Engadget and Gizmodo. One company that kept getting mentioned was Shapeways.

One day in surgery an opportunity arose, a patient needed a 3D model created of their fractured forearm to plan their surgery to realign it. This had already been done via a university department and the model produced was out of proportion and only a truncated portion due to cost issues. Even with this it was still north of $1200 for the small model. I then realized I could do better and for less and challenged my self  to produce a model. I trawled the blogs and the Shapeways forums, gleaning help and advise from many members of the Shapeways community. Having chosen my tools I got to work.

I used OsiriX, a well known open source medical imaging package for mac OS to open the CT scan images and produce a surface render (mesh of points) and export it in a format I could manipulate and make compatible for the printers at Shapeways. I exported the files as .obj files and opened them in a recommended manipulation program called MeshLab. This, another free open source application for mac osx. The aim of this application is to close any holes in the meshes and to delete any artifact produced in the scans. These were then exported as .stl files ready for printing.


I uploaded them to Shapeways through my account and they were almost instantly verified as printable and Shapeways began processing the images. The total cost for both bones in white flexible plastic only came to a tiny £77. The bones were in our hands in 7 days to the UK. The resultant models were amazing! We verified them and found them to be virtually identical copies of the bones on the CT scans. The white plastic was a great material to machine and use our normal orthopedic drills and saws and screws on to practice the operation.

All in all Shapeways has opened up rapid prototyping to everyone no matter what the budget. And in our case a revolutionary resource that will help many for the cost of a few of our orthopedic screws! We have since produced a full human pelvis to preoperatively plan a complex hip replacement for under £150 and in less than a week with Shapeways expediting our printing in an emergency situation. 

5 comments

  1. Shapeways Blog

    MIT graduate student Steven Keating in the Mediated Matter Group is experimenting with “printing” concrete with variable density as it would allow the properties of the concrete itself to vary continuously,
    producing structures that are both lighter

  2. Flamefist555

    What was the exact material and why did you decide to use it?

  3. Andrew

    That’s supposed to be RHSC Glasgow, not Glascow. The city is Glasgow!

  4. nanotechnology products

    3D Printing Technology has made it possible for designers to create 3D models and images pre-production products without the need to incur expensive outsourcing costs.

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