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Yale surgeon performs first in-house surgery using 3D technologies

Yale's 3DC supported the surgical team with patient-specific models 3D printed in house

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The Department of Orthopædics and Rehabilitation at the Yale School of Medicine recently performed its first in-house surgical case using 3D modeling and 3D printing. The surgery, which was to treat a distal radius malunion (i.e. a broken arm that healed badly), relied on a 3D surgical plan, personalized 3D printed surgical guides and 3D printed anatomical models to prepare the surgical team for the best outcome.

The procedure was performed by Lisa Lattanza, MD, Chair and Ensign Professor of Orthopaedics & Rehabilitation, who worked with a Yale team and imaging software to create detailed 3D models of the patient’s arm using medical scans. These models, more than two-dimensional X-rays, allowed the surgical team to see clearly what they were dealing with and plan more precise surgical interventions before any incisions. For this case in particular, they were able to determine the optimal type of osteotomy and location to repair the radial bone. Ultimately, with this high degree of preparedness, actual surgery times can be minimized and outcomes can be improved.

Yale Orthopaedic surgery

On top of the 3D surgical planning, detailed 3D printed models of the patient’s arm were used to physically practice the surgical procedure as were customized surgical guides. These patient-specific 3D prints were made at the 3D Collaborative for Medical Innovation (3DC), which is based in the Department of Orthopaedics & Rehabilitation. Not only do these types of 3D anatomical models enable surgeons to have a tactile preparation, they are also important for evaluating the fit of surgical guides and jigs.

As Lattanza explained: “Orthopaedic surgery is geared towards functionality and returning patients to normal life, and to that end, ‘one size fits all’ is no longer a phrase that applies for us. Our priority is to fully understand each patient and develop a plan of care based on their specific needs, long-term goals, and achievable outcomes. Since every person has a unique anatomy with individualized motion patterns and functions, as well as unique injuries, 3D surgical procedures are tailored specifically for each patient.”

Yale Orthopaedic surgery

Part of what set this recent procedure apart—making it a first for the university—was that the 3D printing for the surgical models and guides was 3D printed in house. Typically, Yale surgeons have worked with external third parties for patient-specific prints, which could slow down lead times. The 3DC brings these services in house, giving surgical teams immediate access to 3D printing technologies and facilitating design changes. “We can also support more pathology types and patient age brackets, circumventing any limitations of third parties,” added Alyssa Glennon, 3DC Program Director and Lead Engineer. “We can have engineering staff present in the operating room at the time of surgery, or we are just a short walk away.”

Glennon also said: “Our primary objective is to support our clinicians and their cases by bringing engineering expertise into their surgical planning, and technology like 3D printing, artificial intelligence and virtual reality into the operating room,” Glennon said. “With our in-house 3DC team, we offer patient-specific solutions wherever and whenever needed. This leads to benefits such as reduced operating times, reduced intra-operative fluoroscopy, enhanced precision, improved consistency, minimized complications, lowered costs to the hospital and better patient outcomes, among others.”

Yale Orthopaedic surgery

The innovative surgery to treat a patient’s distal radius malunion took place in April 2024, making it the fifth orthopaedic surgical procedure the 3DC has supported. The center is reportedly also planning to introduce 3D printing and other engineering solutions to support patient care in plastic surgery, radiation oncology and other medical departments.

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Tess Boissonneault

Tess Boissonneault is a Montreal-based content writer and editor with five years of experience covering the additive manufacturing world. She has a particular interest in amplifying the voices of women working within the industry and is an avid follower of the ever-evolving AM sector. Tess holds a master's degree in Media Studies from the University of Amsterdam.

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