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Materialise, improving patients’ lives with 3D-printed implants

3000 Leuven
Improving patients’ lives with 3D-printed implants


  • Challenging the notion that 3D printing is ‘just a gadget’ and demonstrating its applications in the health sector
  • Showing the benefits of 3D-printed implants over traditional ones in complex cases


  • Helping patients with complex cases
  • Improving patients’ quality of life
  • Providing a new tool for hospitals and implant specialists

The Challenge

Standard implants and prostheses are often designed for standard cases, but special cases do not fit with generic solutions. This was the case for Nathalie Dufaut, who, two years ago was shot by a man with a hunting rifle. The bullet entered the front of her shoulder joint and exited through her shoulder blade. Although her shoulder's bony anatomy was destroyed, the nerves were not affected. She visited 12 surgeons to find one who would take on her case and help ease the pain in her shoulder, but none could help. Because of the advanced destruction of the glenoid cavity, the patient needed a special implant to suit her needs, which would allow for osseous fixation on the scapula. A traditional implant was not an option because the shoulder was too badly damaged and there was no way to fix it to the bone. Supported by a specialist who agreed to help her, she considered the possibility of a 3D-printed, custom-made implant.

The Solution

Nathalie Dufaut contacted Professor Narcisse Zwetyenga, head of maxillofacial surgery at Centre Hospitalier Universitaire in Dijon (France), who later introduced her to the orthopedic surgeon in his team, Dr Brice Viard. The doctor was faced with a very particular case of advanced joint destruction that was difficult to treat with current practices. According to Dr Viard, the lesions in the shoulder were very advanced: “The patient’s humerus had no proximal articular surface and was severely deformed.” The 3D image also outlined the loose bone fragments sticking to the inner side of the deltoid muscle and stuck in a fibrous membrane. The only way to treat this was by using a personalised implant.

Implementation Process

Starting from CT scan images, clinical engineers at Materialise analysed the pre-operation situation using medical software to segment the shoulder bones. Based on this assessment, the team designed a patient-specific implant and surgical plan. After careful review and feedback from the surgeon, the design and plan were approved. The implant was later printed and shipped to the hospital.

Dr Brice Viard said that he found the collaboration with Materialise extremely helpful, especially during the pre-operation planning. Contact with the engineers was very hands-on and methodical, resulting in the creation of a very realistic implant for this specific surgery.

The Results and Benefits

Patient-specific shoulder implants and guides are becoming increasingly recognised as a surgical technique. Materialise has recently announced a new partnership with DePuy Synthes for 3D planning and printing for shoulder guides. 

Materialise is now Europe’s largest single-site 3D-printing factory. It is helping more than 50,000 patients each year and to date has created more than 350,000 specific models, guides and implants for patients. Materialise has been granted more than 210 patents and are currently waiting for the results of more than 165 other petitions.

With regards to Nathalie Dufaut, thanks to the implant designed specifically for her, she has regained very satisfactory articular mobility. She is very happy with the results, and even if it is still a little too early to ascertain bone growth in the implant, the short and mid-term results are very satisfactory. Consequently, it has been confirmed that the 3D-printed implant is a flexible and adaptable tool for application in the health industry

Further Information