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Western University helps develop 3D-printed surgical table

3D-printed surgical table. (Source: Western University) 3D-printed surgical table. (Source: Western University)

A collaborative project between Western University and Michigan Tech University has resulted in a functional, 3D-printed surgical fracture table.

According to Western, the table was built at a fraction of what it would normally cost.

“We want everyone in the world to have cost-effective medical care and this is one step on the path to getting us there,” said Joshua Pearce, chair in Information Technology and Innovation at Western. “And if we help those who are financially less fortunate with acquiring high-performance medical equipment, we will also be making better medical tools for ourselves at a lower cost, so really, everyone wins.”

The capital cost of a surgical fracture table, for example, would generally cost more than $250,000. The final constructed operating table costs just under $4,000, or a 98.5 per cent savings compared to commercially available systems.

The study could have significant impact in the developing world, according to Western, where the financial burden of medical equipment is a significant barrier to universal access to health care.

Final assembly of surgical fracture table. (Source: Western University)“Medical technology is absurdly expensive. One way we can help reduce costs is to enable all manufacturers to build these, sell them directly, and to integrate some of the innovations, like the use of the radiolucent 3D-printed parts we made into their own designs,” said Pearce. “This is in no way the final fracture table. I’m sure any decent engineer could look at it and make it a little bit better and that’s exactly what it’s meant to do — to be a starting point for other people to build on.”

Ideally, this table design is useful to hospitals that might otherwise be unable to afford one, reads a statement from Western.

As the design of the table is freely available, the table can be built, used and repaired on location. As surgeons and other health-care workers find a need for further attachments and modifications, they can add to the functionality of the design, either by designing a modification themselves, or by describing what they would like to see in the design and having others contribute to these designs.

The work was published in the high-impact journal PLOS ONE, outlining innovative, step-by-step, techniques to build a functionally comparable operating table using open-source hardware and 3D printing.

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