discoveries magazine

A Step Ahead

3-D printing paired with orthopedic research helps patients with a debilitating foot disease.

Illustration: Sean McCabe

Investigators at Cedars-Sinai used 3-D printing to evaluate leading corrective methods for foot deformities caused by Charcot-Marie-Tooth disease, which affects nerve function in the hands and feet. More than 120,000 people in the U.S. suffer from the condition, which leaves many with feet that are twisted inward, making walking difficult.

Using a CT scan of a teenage patient’s foot, the scientists created 3-D prints of the deformed bones. They then used the models to compare the outcomes of major corrective surgical techniques. The results showed that none were satisfactory.

"To truly help patients with Charcot-Marie-Tooth disease, we must fully understand the limits of current methods," says Glenn B. Pfeffer, MD, lead author of the paper and director of the Cedars-Sinai Foot and Ankle Program in the Department of Orthopaedics. "This is one of the first times 3-D prints have been used in orthopedic research, and it’s a major step in helping us improve on current practices."