3D printing limbs can reduce operating times and mistakes says doctor

The technique allows theatre teams to practise before surgery and carry out more complex procedures.

The work, presented at the British Orthopaedic Association Congress in Belfast last week, has been hailed as a “revolution in medical provision” and a “massive step forward”.

The technique can also be used for surgery for facial deformity, cancer, trauma and transplant.

Michael Eames, consultant orthopaedic surgeon at the South Eastern Trust, Belfast, who has been using the technology, said last night: “I am very excited by this and the prospects for it particularly in complex cases.

“We are less likely to make mistakes with this technology and it is helping us dramatically cut operating times, reducing complications and improving patient outcomes.

“It is revolutionising surgery and a massive step forward.”

He added: “If a picture tells a thousand words, a 3D printout tells a million.

“Doing surgery with this is like driving round country roads with a GPS system compared to not having one.”

Mr Eames has used 3D printing eight times for surgery with the help of Axial3D, the only company in the country which specialises in helping hospitals use the technology.

In one case, Mr Eames helped restore a 10-year-old’s sporting ambitions by correcting his injured forearm.

Callum Teggart, from Downpatrick, County Down, Northern Ireland, had a lifechanging operation after 3D printing made the procedure safe enough for Mr Eames to perform.

The printout also meant the operating time was cut from four hours to under 30 minutes.

Callum’s problems began after a complex left forearm injury when he broke two bones in 2011 falling off a bed.

When his cast was removed his bones had healed in an abnormal position, preventing him from rotating his arm. Callum suffered increasing pain and just 50 per cent of movement.

His father Darren, 42, a plasterer, said: “He couldn’t throw a ball, do tenpin bowling or badminton without pain. It even hurt him to wash his hands.”

Callum was referred to Mr Eames last November and his CT scan data was converted into a hard and soft tissue 3D model.

The model offered Mr Eames unprecedented insight into the injury and changed the course of his treatment.

He said: “It showed us that while the shape of the bones was grossly abnormal, it wasn’t the shape of the bones that was limiting the rotation.

“It was the tight structures between the bones that had scarred down that was preventing the child from rotating his arm.”