3D printing aiming to improve spinal surgery at Westmead Hospital

Westmead orthopaedic spine surgeon Dr Andrew Kanawati with one of his custom 3D-printed spine models.

Westmead Hospital is beginning to embrace cutting-edge advancements in 3D printing in a bid to improve surgical accuracy for more than 200 patients a year needing spinal surgery at the facility.

Orthopaedic spine surgeon Dr Andrew Kanawati is pioneering a technique using CT scans and 3D printing to create exact replicas of patient’s vertebra which could allow for nearly 100 per cent accuracy of screw placement during surgery.

The 3D printed vertebra are fitted with custom built screw guides ensuring the screws go into the bone – minimising the risk of damage to the spinal cord, surrounding nerves and blood vessels. Standard surgery relies totally on the surgeon’s anatomical knowledge as they cannot see the entire bone while operating, and is between 60-80 per cent accurate.

Screws in spinal surgery are used to treat patients with spinal trauma, herniated discs, tumours and infection.

Dr Kanawati said he started the research during his two-year fellowship at London Health Sciences Centre in Canada and is now applying for approval for human trials at Westmead.

“Our initial testing was 100 per cent successful, with none of the screws going outside the bone.

Dr Kanawati

“Currently we only use screw guides for particularly complex cases. By bringing this technology into Westmead Hospital, we can produce our own guides for every patient at minimal cost.”

Each screw guide is custom designed and built to perfectly fit the specific vertebra before surgery.

Dr Kanawati said after the initial outlay of an FDA-approved printer and staff training, customised screw guides only cost around $30 in materials per patient.

The surgeon is also exploring other applications for the technology – including 3D printing tumours to prepare for surgery, and producing a human-like articulated spine to increase training opportunities for young surgeons.

For more information about orthopaedic surgery at Westmead Hospital, speak to your doctor or call (02) 8890 6025.

Dr Kanawati trained himself in 3D modelling and printing during his fellowship in Canada.

Western Sydney Local Health District is the state’s leading district for research output, with $60 million of funding for around 2,000 research projects.

The Westmead Health Precinct is one of the largest health, education, research, innovation and training precincts in Australia, featuring four major hospitals, four world-leading medical research institutes, two university campuses and the largest research intensive pathology service in NSW.