Three-dimensional (3D) printing has been exalted as a game-changing technology due to its ability to produce tailor-made products through rapid prototyping. Over the past few years, the technology has made successful inroads into the medical devices industry as a means to achieve improved patient specificity and enhanced clinical outcomes.

J&J’s DePuy Synthes made the news this month with the acquisition of Michigan-based 3D-printing company Tissue Regeneration Systems (TRS).

As favourable demographic trends continue to drive volume growth in procedures for trauma-related abnormalities, the trauma sector is enjoying consistent market growth. Driven by technological innovation and aggressive marketing in supply, one major trend in the trauma sector has been the expanded adoption and utilisation of patient-specific resorbable systems in lieu of standard / stock devices. With the dawn of 3D printing technology, patient-specific implant designs are set to undergo a paradigm shift in the management of complicated trauma and reconstruction surgeries.

According to GlobalData’s discussions with key opinion leaders in the trauma community, an increasing number of craniomaxillo facial reconstruction and trauma surgeries performed in the developed markets involve the use of patient-specific devices fabricated based on personalised pre-surgical planning. The use of virtual planning-based prefabricated jigs and pre-contoured plates minimises inaccuracies and simplifies surgery execution, allowing for a more complex procedure to be successful. Following the acquisition, GlobalData expects DePuy to leverage its existing distribution channels and salesforce to integrate TRS products to its comprehensive trauma portfolio, and up-sell to a wider pool of average orthopedic surgeons in the US.

Moving forward, as the efficiencies of a serviced-based approach to personalised surgery that combines expertise in medical imaging, surgical simulation, and 3D printing becomes widely acknowledged in the clinical community, the industry will see more partnerships between small contract 3D-printing service firms and large orthopedic companies seeking to tap opportunities in this revolutionary technology.

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Indeed, the processing chain, from data acquisition to 3D printing of patient-specific trauma implants, has been proven to be practical and uncomplicated. However, 3D printing might continue to be plagued by a major weakness in terms of its future growth within the orthopedic industry, such as the need for hospital administrators to cut costs associated with high-volume surgeries, such as trauma.

Although 3D-printed implants may theoretically reduce the overall cost of ownership of a facial implant by reducing the operating time, hospital stay duration, and chance of procedure complications, there is a lack of clinical evidence suggesting the actual cost-effectiveness of 3D-printed implants in these surgeries. Moreover, despite growing enthusiasm for the use of 3D printing in orthopedics, reimbursement remains a significant obstacle. Surgeons are the ultimate driving force in adopting new medical technology. However, the lack of insurance coverage for patient-specific implants and insufficient reimbursement for complex trauma cases are deterring many surgeons from participation in medical training for using pre-surgical planning and 3D-printed implants.