Digital twins and 3D printing could inform paediatric hip surgery


Griffith University's Dr Martina Barzan. Image credit: Griffith University.

Griffith University bioengineer, Dr Martina Barzan, supplied a 60-second pitch that won the Fresh Science Queensland 2021 competition on research using digital twins to design 3D printed components, aiming to remove the guesswork from paediatric hip surgery. 

Barzan took on 11 other up-and-coming scientists who had to describe their scientific discoveries in under a minute. 

“Imagine if your little sister, daughter or niece could not walk or even sit due to hip pain caused by a severe bone deformity,” Barzan said in her pitch. 

“The only treatment is surgery. Every two days, one child in Queensland has surgery to correct hip deformities. Most surgeons plan these procedures using static 2D images, like x-rays, and this does not allow to appreciate the 3D deformity or to understand how the planned correction would affect how the child’s hip would move.” 

Barzan explained the concept of the digital twin, using computerised replicas of a child’s anatomy with the bones and muscles attached. 

“The digital twin allows surgeons to test surgery options and simulate how the child’s hip would move after surgery,” she said. 

They then designed 3D printed guides that matched the child’s bone shape to transfer the virtual plan to the operating room. 

“Surgery times and radiation dose have been cut in half and, nine months after surgery, all children can sit and walk again,” Barzan said. 

“They can now live a normal life, pain-free.” 

This win is a hat-trick for the Griffith Centre of Biomedical and Rehabilitation Engineering team, with Dr Claudio Pizzolato and Dr Antony McNamee winning the Fresh Science Queensland competition in 2018 and 2019. 

Barzan, who works at the Advanced Design and Prototyping Technologies Institute within the Gold Coast Health and Knowledge Precinct, said she was proud to take out the Fresh Science Queensland 2021 Judges’ Choice award. 

“I’m happy I was able to deliver my message. It was a great feeling,” she said. 

“I’m really grateful and I was quite surprised – there were so many other great finalists.” 

Fresh Science is a national competition, this year held at Griffith University’s Nathan campus, that helps early career researchers find and then share their stories of discovery.