Smarter computing, 3D models speed up reconstructive surgery

Waiting days or even weeks for reconstructive surgery can be agonizing for patients dealing with face- or skull-disfiguring injuries or diseases. So any time saved in producing a perfect fit for a bone implant is welcome, both by the patient and the surgeon overseeing the process.

An Italian company that makes bioceramic implants to replace damaged bones, teeth and joints has found a way to speed up its production with the help of smarter computing. Now, instead of waiting for couriers to deliver physical prototypes of implants for doctors to review before surgery, the company can let customers log into a secure web portal that features a 3D modeling system for designing and fine-tuning implants in cyberspace.

The company, Finceramica, worked with IBM business partner and Materialise Software to develop the portal, called the “Custom Bone Service.”

Before, says Claudio De Luca, Finceramica’s vice president of business development, marketing and sales, getting an implant from design to approval involved “a lot of logistics, a lot of costs, a lot of time.”

“It was quite a complex process,” he says. Now, however, “in this system, we have put everything together – everything is in this magic pot.”

The “magic pot” is the web portal built on IBM’s WebSphere Portal software. The portal provides the security and privacy required by numerous regulations while enabling authorized surgeons to log in from any standard web browser to input data from patient CT scans, check the validity of the information and import it into the 3D modeling system.

Next, the staff at Finceramica review the data and use the 3D system to create a virtual model of the implant. Once the model is completed and published on the portal, the surgeon is notified that it’s ready for review. He or she can use 3D animation to rotate the model and look at it from different angles and resolutions to ensure it will be a good fit, and can then either sign off on the model or ask for modifications.

“We get an immediate answer and it doesn’t take 10 days,” De Luca says.

Once the 3D model gets the surgeon’s final approval, Finceramica passes the specifications along to its production department. When the implant is completed, it’s ready for surgery and shipped straight to the appropriate hospital … no physical prototypes or multiple shipments required.

Finceramica first tried the new portal using a theoretical patient in September 2011, then rolled it out to a small number of real-life customers in 10 different countries for further testing. Today, the system is available to any of its surgical customers who want to use it … and between 60 and 70 percent have already made the switch from the old process.

“This took quite a while to develop,” De Luca says, and – so far – Finceramica is the only company in this specialized industry to use such a system. That’s not likely to remain the case, though, he acknowledges.

“Technology in this field is running faster,” he says. So Finceramica is already looking ahead to expanding the system for different types of implants, in particular, those for long bones like arm or leg bones.

This post was written as part of the IBM for Midsize Business program, which provides midsize businesses with the tools, expertise and solutions they need to become engines of a smarter planet.

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