From aircrafts to people: 3D additive technology for scoliosis

Project Case | ICT & Aerospace | CITD Engineering & Technologies S.L

Scoliosis is a medical term used to explain a sideways curvature of the spine. It can affect people of any age, from babies to adults, but most often starts in children at aged 10 to 15. (in some cases, can also occur earlier or later than this).

Since scoliosis was firstly diagnosed by Classic Greek physician Hippocrates, lately, many physicians and orthopedic surgeons have sought to find a cure for the condition. It is a surprisingly common condition: nowadays, 2-3% of the global population suffers from scoliosis, a number which is expected to rise in the future(1).

Scoliosis is a disease with varying degrees of severity. While many cases are mild enough to not require treatment, however, some of them are so severe that the sufferer’s ability to walk and even to sit up can be impaired. These are the cases that often require surgery, and for some, this can be a lifelong burden rather than a quick fix, even more in case of revision surgeries will be required.

Technology and medicine go together hand by hand since ancient times. Consistent advances in pharmaceuticals and the medical field save millions of lives and make improve many others. In the last years, new technologies on 3D scan CAD models of the spine, finite element modeling and design optimization techniques, have settled the base on which develop new treatments and tools.

Scoliosis surgery is linked to the implantation of standard straight and flat metallic straps (made by titanium, chrome or cobalt), with several holes, screwed to the spine to prevent progression and/or correct the spine curve to avoid future physical problems.

And since anyone’s anatomy is not exactly the same as the others, standard sizes and shapes of these implants could be problematic, and can further result in complications or even need for revision surgery in the future.
Therefor, implants should be functional, shape customized and topologically optimized, always looking for a uniform stress distribution, and so improving quality life of patients.

With these assumptions, PAMIS project (Personalized Additive Manufactured Implants for Scoliosis treatment) was undertaken by CITD, an engineering company founded at year 2000 to develop an aircraft electrical system.

Since its settlement, company has worked closely with Airbus on several projects, and has achieved notoriety and positioning in the aerospace industry. CITD uses additive manufacturing and other digital technologies to deliver high quality aircraft components, and is now applying with this project, at Healthcare sector, its expertise on these technologies.

3D digital modeling and structures optimization have been a challenge in the Aerospace industry for the last 20 years. In parallel, surgical treatments are also being changed for the better by 3D printing, as the technology allows personalized surgical guides and braces, more lightweight and form-fitting to people needs(4).

PAMIS basically integrates the two already developed technologies: FEM Analysis of CAD models and 3D Printing Additive Manufacturing. Both technologies have become very popular in the industry, thanks to their several benefits. According to them, by using 3D scans of patient’s spine, medical professionals may take advantage of finite elements modeling and design optimization techniques, to create the best possible implants for each patient’s unique anatomy. Moreover, these implants can be 3D printed, using lightweight and biocompatible materials.

This new concept of optimized implants may help to treat cases of severe scoliosis, as well as improving patients’ life quality and making economical savings to the National Health Service, due to reduction of post-surgery issues.

Pairing of virtual and physical worlds enable heading off problems even before they can occur in the surgery.

Therefore, virtual human model concept and new definition of bio-inspired 3D-printed parts for scoliosis might open the way to the definition of other lines of orthopedic implants, as well as the application of materials better suited to the specific stress.

Furthermore, participation in the ACTTiVAte program has facilitated necessary acceleration to get the most from previous expertise of the company, letting the project to take off up to the current situation of validation with first users. To reach this, financial support from ACTTiVAte funds and coaching about business plan have resulted vital for the success outcome of project.

Future seems optimistic for this project. New applications are arising for this technology beyond scoliosis treatments, and opportunities in the Health sector for prosthesis and implants are huge.