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Printing beyond paper with 3D-printed knee replacements

Posted at 1:19 PM, Dec 30, 2016

It's no longer "One size fits all." That's the idea behind new technology that could revolutionize knee and hip replacement surgery and make the whole process more bearable.

It's only a few steps but for Gary King each one brings more pain.

"If I walk with my knee probably about 500 feet if that I'm in a lot of pain," King says.

After a series of accidents injured his legs, he had his right knee replaced. And when arthritis flared up in his left, King asked his doctor about another replacement surgery.

"He looked at it and he called me one night and said, 'Gary this is a little bit too difficult,'" King recalls.

His doctor suggested a customized knee replacement using 3D printing. 

"I thought, man, this is the way to go," King says. "The way for me to try."

Gary connected with Dr. Ian Dickey, an orthopedic surgeon at Presbyterian/St. Luke's.

"Why would you want to have to fit a knee replacement why wouldn't the knee replacement fit you?" Dr. Dickey said.

Dr. Dickey says that's the advantage of printed knee replacements. After scanning the patients hip, knee and ankle bones computer programs are then able to design and print an implant that is accurate and almost perfectly aligned for them. Dr. Dickey says standard implants aren't as personalized.

"It then knows you need to be 73.6221 millimeters wide or whatever the case may be," Dr. Dickey says. "So it then can print the implant to fit perfectly side front to back."

Dr. Dickey says patients have less pain, a better recovery, and a more stable and natural feeling knee. Just days away from his surgery, King is hopeful he'll experience those things and more.

"Waking up from surgery and have him say 'Everything went well and you're ready to ride a bike,'" King says. "I am really looking forward to it."

Doctor Dickey says knee replacement surgery using a 3D printed implant is a good option for anyone in need of a knee replacement, regardless of age. 

More than 600,000 people in the U.S. have a total knee replacement surgery every year, and with people working longer and obesity on the rise that number is only expected to grow. A new technology could make every one of those replacements a custom fit.