More Patients Getting 3D Printed Knees

Published: Jan. 12, 2016 at 7:28 AM CST
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The future of knee replacement could be coming from a printer.

Doctors in the Cedar Rapids area are turning to 3D printers more and more to make custom knees for patients.

The technology has been around for a few years, but Dr. Sandeep MunJal, an orthopedic surgeon with Physicians' Clinic of Iowa, said he's likely the first to offer the surgery in town.

He estimates he’s done 30 in the last 12 months.

One of Dr. Munjal's patients who received the procedure was Larry Johnson of Hiawatha.

Johnson had severe arthritis in his left knee. His cartilage was gone. Bone was touching bone, giving Johnson severe pain while walking. His arthritis ruled his life, keeping him counting steps.

"If you had to go to any event, you'd think about how far you'd have to walk," Johnson said. “Or do you have to stand in line. Pretty painful."

With traditional knee replacement, artificial joints come in different sizes which are fit to the patient, like a shirt at a clothing store.

The 3D printed joint starts with a CT scan of the knee. That gives technicians the proper measurements to use a 3D printer which mills out the pieces needed.

Dr. Munjal said the 3D printed knee equals big benefits for patients. Less bone has to be removed, meaning reduced pain and quicker recovery. Knee motion is more natural. And perhaps the best part, it costs the same as a traditional knee replacement.

Johnson had his surgery in October. He said his knee is doing great and his pain has disappeared.

"I think it's wonderful,” Johnson said. “I'm going to get the right knee done next."

Dr. Munjal said 3D printed knees are the cutting edge, but expects the future of joint replacement will be in synthetic or biological materials that closely mimic the human body. He compared the use of 3D printed knees to the Palm Pilot, while those made of bio material would be like the iPhone.