3-D printing has been covered by mainstream consumer tech press since 2012. Earlier interest was limited largely to hobbyists and engineers. Even in 2012 and 2013, many of the examples of 3-D printing were of creating small plastic toys and parts. Skip forward just a few years and now companies are 3-D printing titantium body parts, custom fit to the bodies of individual patients and able to support bone growth in and around the implanted parts.
Stryker recently received FDA clearance for an intervertebral body fusion device that aids lumbar spinal fusion. The Tritanium® PL Posterior Lumbar Cage is constructed using an additive 3-D printing process using Stryker’s proprietary Tritanium material. Tritanium is a specially formulated porous form of titantium, which is the preferred material for implants because of its ability to bond with bone. Tritanium is specifically designed for spinal applications.
The Tritanium PL Posterior Lumbar Cage can be printed in different length, width, height, and lordotic angles (the inward curve of the spine). The cage is implanted on the posterior (back) of the spine and is intended for use with patients who have degenerative disc disease, grade I spondylolisthesis, and degenerative scoliosis. The open design of the Lumbar Cage allows medical professionals to view fusions with CT (or CAT) scans and x-rays. Stryker expects the Tritanium PL Lumbar Cage to be available to surgeons in the Q2 2016.
The rapid advance of 3-D printing for creating custom bone implants is a hint of the benefits possible with this technology, with work also proceeding in developing 3-D printing for tissue and organ replacements. It’s forseeable that medical facilities in the future will have a variety of special purpose 3-D printers at the ready for just-in-time bioprinting on an as-needed basis.