UK Dental Lab Plans to 3D Print Spinal Implants

UK dental lab Attenborough Dental‘s spine is probably not the bassline, but a 3D printer. For over 100 years, it has been a dental laboratory and it is currently active in more than 20 countries worldwide. 3D printing techniques are becoming more and more common in the field of dental innovations and the lab therefore wants to expand its services and aims to use it in the field of orthopedics. It might sound very futuristic, but a 3D printed spinal implant could be a solution to many patients.

3d printing

3D printed spinal implants could be such a benefit for patients because of the implant’s ability to be customized. The problem with today’s spinal implants is that they use a one-size-fits-all approach, which means the implants often don’t fit perfectly. The company’s managing director Ed Attenborough has summarized todays problems perfectly to Nottingham Post: “Patients are made to fit the artificial implant, via surgery, instead of the implant being made to fit the patient.”

The company therefore wants to do things differently in the future. They aim to 3D scan a person’s spine in order to learn more about the exact measurements of the limb. Thereafter, the 3D scan will be used to create a 3D model, which will be the basis of an actual print. In this scenario, a patient’s spine does not need to be made to fit the artificial implant anymore, as the implant will be made to fit the patient.


Mr. Attenborough expects to help 24 patients the next 18 months. This is only the beginning of something bigger, as the laboratory wants to invest whether the same technique could also be used in different fields, such knees and hips implants. To Nottingham Post, the managing director explained the following:

“We have a 3D patient scanning centre on site which has an accuracy of up to 20 microns. We also have a 3D printing and manufacturing centre on site, accurate to five to 16 microns working with materials such as titanium and ceramics such as zirconia. We have a very unique set-up here in Nottingham with all the technology needed for the proposal under one roof, which allows us to develop an integrated product and new treatment protocols. Nottingham has one of the largest teaching hospitals in the country at its heart as well as a world-leading academic centre in 3D printing at the University of Nottingham.”

3D printing artificial bones is something which recently has been happening more and more often. Beijing’s Peking University Third Hospital as well as researchers at the Kyoto University Graduate School of Medicine are currently doing something similar in the field of combining 3D printing techniques with spinal implants.

In addition, there recently was an English man who lost half his pelvis to bone cancer, but thanks to 3D techniques a surgeon was able to print an entirely new pelvis for the patient. The doctor from Newcastle, Craig Gerrand, used 3D printing as well as scanning techniques in order to perform what has been the first transplant of its kind. In three years time, the patient – a man in his 60s – will even be capable of walking again using a stick.

And many will remember the 3D printed skull project from The Netherlands. A 22-year-old Dutch woman suffered from a rare disease, which made her skull grow. She knew something had to be done to make her survive, and she decided to go for a risky operation. It lasted as many as 23 hours, but the operation at UMC Utrecht turned out to become a great success, making it the first time in history a patient’s skull was replaced by a 3D printed counterpart.

Image credits: Kyoto University Graduate School of Medicine.

About the Author

Jelmer Luimstra is a Dutch journalist. He covers 3D printing news and writes about innovation.

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