Medical 3D printing breakthrough enables production of ultra-realistic human bone models

3rd December 2020

A medical 3D printing breakthrough is allowing the production of models that closely mimic the properties of human bone.

Stratasys has enhanced its J750 Digital Anatomy printer so that prints both look like bones and are biomechanically realistic.

Screws inserted into a bone structure in a medical 3D printing application
The Digital Anatomy 3D printer from Stratasys enables physicians to practise inserting screws for orthopaedic applications with biomechanical realism similar to a human anatomy

The software upgrade enables the systems to recreate porous structures, fibrotic tissue and ligaments. That means medical professionals can create models that behave just like human bone, leading to better treatment for patients.

What is the Digital Anatomy 3D printer?

The Digital Anatomy printer initially focused on mimicking soft tissues such as blood vessels using materials like GelMatrix and TissueMatrix.

The technology has helped healthcare providers to improve surgical preparedness and medical device makers to test new devices. However, the latest BoneMatrix material breakthrough extends those benefits to orthopaedic applications.

Osnat Philipp is a Vice President who leads the Stratasys global healthcare team. He said: “The mechanical properties of bone are so fundamental to the ability of our skeletons to support movement, provide protection for our vital organs and ultimately affect our quality of life.

“We believe that better preparation leads to better clinical outcomes. Being able to 3D print models that are biomechanically accurate and unique to each patient is critical to that preparation.”

Despite the high demand for bone models, traditional options have serious shortcomings. The medical industry has traditionally used human bone from cadavers or legacy 3D-printing solutions, all of which have proven inadequate.

Human bone is expensive and difficult to obtain, particularly with the precise characteristics (eg tumours) needed. Off-the-shelf manufactured bone models also lack patient-specific characteristics.

In contrast, whether inserting a screw or sawing a bone, medical professionals can expect highly realistic haptic feedback from Digital Anatomy models, while each model can also be created from an actual patient scan.

Unlocking the power of medical 3D printing

While the Digital Anatomy 3D printer itself features cutting-edge technology, it’s the Stratasys software that unlocks its power. It has been developed through years of expert testing with top medical academics around the globe.

Intervertebral discs can be printed in normal or degenerated form, for example. The denser structure of skull bone is differentiated from general bones. Long bones can be printed with varying amounts of marrow.

Researchers at the Computational Mechanics and Experimental Biomechanics Lab at Tel Aviv University have conducted a clinical evaluation of the characteristics of bone models printed on the Digital Anatomy system. The study focused on how accurately they replicate screw pull-out force and driving torque using cortical and cancellous screws. It concluded that orthopaedic screws’ pull-out force in the 3D-printed models had a similar haptic response to human cadaver bone.

Another study by researchers at the Technion Institute of Technology’s Materials Science and Engineering Laboratory in Israel demonstrated the mechanical accuracy of 3D-printed spine models compared to cadaver spines. It was able to show that the 3D-printed models of lumbar vertebrae accurately represented the range of motion compared to published literature on human spines.

Clearly, 3D printing is continuing to revolutionise the medical sector and facilitate better patient outcomes.

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