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Hit Crtl P & Watch the Magic Happen — 3D Printing for Scoliosis

Published December 4, 2017

Let's set the scene. It's Season 11 Episode 10 of good ole' Grey's Anatomy

The infamous doctors gather around Meredith as she holds a printed fork that was created from a 3D printer. No one is particularly impressed. Meredith says it's the first step toward innovation — an advancement in saving lives. The episode continues when a new patient enters who has a rather large tumor growing inside them. It's so large that they need to know the ins and outs of it in order to properly remove it without further damaging the patient. Meredith's idea is to print the tumor — replicate it — so they can better “understand” by touching and feeling the printed version. They print. It works.

The episode proceeds as they touch and feel the replicated tumor — studying it hardcore. When it comes time to open the patient up, they don't have to see the tumor to properly remove because they know it by touch and feel. The surgery, a success. They saved another life.

Now, let's go back to the headline — 3D Printing for Scoliosis.

What is Scoliosis?

Scoliosis is the abnormal twisting or curvature of the spine. It predominately affects female teenagers. Managing this disorder requires a patient to wear a spinal brace in order to lead their spine back into alignment. Most patients have to wear 'corsets' for 14 to 18 hours ALL DAY, EVERY DAY. Throughout history, these corsets or braces have been known to be not the most comfortable, making these innovative corsets that much more miraculous. We could almost say a medical necessity. Anyone with scoliosis would most likely agree.

What Exactly is a 3D Printer?

By definition, a 3D printer is a process of making three-dimensional solid objects from a digital file, typically by laying down many thin layers of a material in succession.

Traditionally, certain corsets are constructed from a plaster mold. A custom design is then produced for each specific patient. 3D printing could be set to improve this with even give greater outcomes than conventional ones.

Let's take Linda as an example. Linda D. is a customer service representative, New Jersey native and scoliosis patient who wrote in an online forum discussing 3D printing, “They [have] come such a long way. I wore a plaster cast all the way up to my chin for 3 months, before surgery and a full body cast to my knee six months after surgery [when I was] confined to a bed in 1964.”

Can you imagine being bedridden laying in a full body cast for six months after an already grueling surgery? That sounds plain awful. Luckily, Dr. Lelio Leoncini agreed.

History of 3D Printing

The 3D printing research named orthopedic corsets began back in 2014 with Leoncini, an Italian doctor concentrating in physical therapy and physical medicine.

He joined WASPmedical team (we will tell you who that is in just one second) and proceeded his investigation utilizing a DeltaWASP 40 70 printer (that's science talk for a very cool 3D printer).

WASPmedical is a segment of the 3D printing development group for the World’s Advanced Saving Project also known as WASP for short.

Hundreds of thousands of people in the world are victims of grave wounds or mutilations from trauma or genetics and their team believed that 3D Printing would relieve people's pain. So WASPmed was born. They are an operation that unites researchers and professionals in the medical field to patients in need.

How Can a 3D Printer Help with My Scoliosis?

Leoncini had various motivations for embracing additive manufacturing to develop the 3D printed corset. He revealed, “From an orthopedic and scientific point of view, the 3D printing allows to perform on scoliosis in a more efficient and effective way than the handmade production.”

These 3D printed corsets offer a better way to treat scoliosis. Typically, a plaster mold of the patient's torso is needed to make spinal braces. But, 3D printing technology is making this process faster and cheaper. By 3D scanning a patient, the corsets can fit more precisely and comfortably. And they can even be tweaked and adjusted after the initial model has been created.

“Through the virtual project, you find out how scoliosis will develop; the production costs decrease considerably; you don’t have the problem to clear out the materials and you speed up production. A technician can hand-make a couple of corsets a day; using the 3D printing you can double the quantity and with a better quality,” explained Leoncini.

“It is much more anatomical, it does not annoy the patient who, consequently, can wear it for a longer time ... [and] it looks nicer,” Leoncini concludes.

Appearances even if vein are pretty significant (particularly in a teenager's world). Back in the day, common braces resembled that of body armor, while the 3D printed version enables you to move freer and even personalize the patterns on your corset. You already have Meredith Grey's approval AND you can pretty much count the rest of the Grey's cast in too.

We would say what are you waiting for, BUT there is no word yet on when these WASP specific corsets will be available for commercial use. Stay tuned. BackerNation will remain alert to any updates so you will be the first to know as soon as we do.

In the meantime, you may want to re-watch that episode of Grey's. It may speak to you more so after learning the true innovation of 3D printing.

Researching 3D printing on a laptop.

Last change: January 25, 2019