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Researchers study 3-D printing of surgical instruments for urgent surgery in remote locations

The need for surgery can strike at any time — including in space. Researchers from the Center for Innovative Technologies and Public Health in Toronto are investigating the possibility of printing three-dimensional surgical instruments from acrylonitrile butadiene styrene plastic on an "as-needed" basis, according to a report from This could be a potentially useful capability for medical teams on space missions or in other remote locations to respond to complex surgical problems, while decreasing the number of supplies loaded for a mission, according to the report.

In their research, the team from CITPH was able to print a towel clamp, sponge stick, scalpel handle, straight and curved hemostats, several types of forceps and several clamps. The particular instrument set was printed because of its versatility in many procedures, according to the report.

Printed instruments met traditional performance standards, and five instrument types were tested by 13 surgeons, who were asked to complete a set of tasks with both traditional and ABS-printed instruments. The instruments were satisfactory, according to the report.

While the 90 minute printing time and lack of research surrounding sterilization for the instruments currently renders them unusable for emergent situations, the capability may prove useful in the future for situations in which surgery is urgent but travel to surgical care is not a feasible possibility.

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