Firefly lights the way for spine surgery with 3D prints
Spinal Elements, the California-based company responsible for helping make medical-grade PEEK plastic the industry standard for spine surgery implants, is working with Mighty Oak Medical’s custom made Firefly Technology. Firefly provides 3D printed guides for surgeons that are designed to match the exact contours of a patient’s vertebrae.
Firefly Technology guides have been used here to help a patient with scoliosis be more active. Screenshot of a 9News report via: Mighty Oak Medical on Youtube
The guides are created using images form a patient’s computed topography (CT) scan, which is rendered in a CAD program, then 3D printed in a plastic that received FDA approval in January of this year. The guides are used to improve a surgeon’s ability to navigate the placement of screws within a spinal-fusion operation. Such an operation is done when bone and tissue in the spinal canal narrow, squeezing nerves or the spinal cord, often the cause of fractures or a condition. Spinal fusion is considered to be major surgery, and often takes several hours to complete. These guides are one solution to help speed up the operation process, improve accuracy and therefore reduce some of the risk and discomfort involved. They also don’t require any intraoperative imaging (iMRI scans) that are not only expensive, but can also cause damage through exposure to radiation.
Screenshot showing how the 3D printed Firefly Technology guides aid with the creation of pilot holes in the bone. Image via: Might Oak Medical
Judging by Spinal Elements’ success in the field of spinal surgery, Mighty Oak Medical are in good hands, and this Firefly Technology could yet become a standard practice around the globe. Heidi Frey, President of Mighty Oak Medical, commented the following on the partnership:
We are excited to partner with Spinal Elements on this technology. We feel confident that once surgeons experience the ease of use and accessibility of the FIREFLY® system, they will gravitate towards predetermined screw sizes and trajectories, implemented with 3D printed patient-specific guides, as a preferred course of treatment for their patients. Spinal Elements, being a technology leader, is a natural partner choice for us to market this technology.
Featured image is a motto taken from Mighty Oak Medical’s website. It reads: ‘Failing to plan is planning to fail.’ – Benjamin Franklin and ‘Building a house requires a blueprint. So should spine surgery.’
3D printing or Additive manufacturing is a process of making a three-dimensional solid object of virtually any shape from a digital model. 3D printing is achieved using an additive process, where successive layers of material are laid down in different shapes. 3D printing is also considered distinct from traditional machining techniques, which mostly rely on the removal of material by methods such as cutting or drilling (subtractive processes).
A 3D printer is a limited type of industrial robot that is capable of carrying out an additive process under computer control.
While 3D printing technology has been around since the 1980s, it was not until the early 2010s that the printers became widely available commercially. The first working 3D printer was created in 1984 by Chuck Hull of 3D Systems Corp. Since the start of the 21st century there has been a large growth in the sales of these machines, and their price has dropped substantially. According to Wohlers Associates, a consultancy, the market for 3D printers and services was worth $2.2 billion worldwide in 2012, up 29% from 2011.[
The 3D printing technology is used for both prototyping and distributed manufacturing with applications in architecture, construction (AEC), industrial design, automotive, aerospace, military, engineering, civil engineering, dental and medical industries, biotech (human tissue replacement), fashion, footwear, jewelry, eyewear, education, geographic information systems, food, and many other fields. One study has found that open source 3D printing could become a mass market item because domestic 3D printers can offset their capital costs by enabling consumers to avoid costs associated with purchasing common household objects.
3D Printable Models
3D printable models may be created with a computer aided design package or via 3D scanner. The manual modeling process of preparing geometric data for 3D computer graphics is similar to plastic arts such as sculpting. 3D scanning is a process of analyzing and collecting data of real object; its shape and appearance and builds digital, three dimensional models.