When the Zucker Institute for Applied Neurosciences at the Medical University of South Carolina needed to bring to life a neurosurgeon’s idea for better instrumentation for sacroiliac surgery, there was one obvious partner to turn to: the MUSC College of Dental Medicine.
The college is the only dental program in the nation to have the Sisma Mysint100 3D selective laser fusion printer that creates 3D prints from metal rather than plastic, and Walter Renne, D.M.D., a professor in the Department of Oral Rehabilitation and assistant dean of innovation and digital dentistry, is eager to see what it can do.
“3D printing is how we get stuff from our imagination into reality. One of the issues in the past was most of what we could print was plastic, and plastic degrades. You need something to actually function,” he said. “Now, instead of imagining something and developing a plastic prototype that I can look at, I can imagine something and develop a real, usable final product that can be put into a drill or placed in a patient’s mouth. It’s really exciting to have that at the university.”
The manufacturer, Sisma, donated the printer about six months ago. Renne said Sisma wanted its latest device to find a home in a college that would think up creative and innovative uses for it. Those uses aren’t limited to dentistry, however.
The college and ZIAN have collaborated in the past, so it was natural for ZIAN to turn to Renne and colleagues for help with this project, which started with an idea from Stephen Kalhorn, M.D., a professor in the Department of Neurosurgery.
Kalhorn has worked several times before with ZIAN, a technology accelerator that exists to help MUSC’s medical providers to develop their ideas for new devices or device improvements.
“I run things by them because then I can spend the majority of my time in the operating room actively helping patients,” he said. “I can literally drop off a napkin sketch at a ZIAN engineer’s desk or even less than that. There’s even been times that I’ve just drawn on the dry-erase board in the OR and taken a picture and sent it to them, and they’re off to the races.”
This time, Kalhorn had an idea to improve sacroiliac joint fusion surgery. The sacroiliac joint is where the pelvis and spine meet; it is also a source of lower back pain. Fusion surgery encourages the two bones to grow together into one so there is no wiggle room between the two.
Bony fusion requires three elements, Kalhorn explained: stabilization, such as when a cast is placed on a broken limb; decortication, which is the removal of the top layer of tissue to ensure there’s no cartilage or fibrous material blocking the bone cells from building a bridge between the two bones; and compression, whereby the pressure encourages more bone growth. But nothing on the