Receiving a diagnosis of cancer – any kind of cancer – is hard enough, but imagine being told that your particular type of cancer is going to cause you to die an extremely painful, drawn-out death. That’s what Drage Josevski was facing when he received a diagnosis of chordoma, a rare type of cancer that affects the spine. It’s bad enough in any part of the spine, but Josevski’s tumor was located in his top two vertebrae. Without treatment, he would gradually lose the function of his arms and legs, and then his ability to breathe and eat, according to Dr. Ralph Mobbs of the Sydney Spine Clinic in New South Wales, Australia.
To prevent that fate, Dr. Mobbs turned to medical device company Anatomics, which made history last year by 3D printing a new sternum and ribs for a cancer patient, the first time such a procedure had ever been done. For Josevski, the company created a 3D printed titanium implant that would replace the cancerous vertebrae, but the procedure was going to be very risky.
“It involves exposure at the top of the neck where the neck and the head meet,” said Dr. Mobbs. “And it’s essentially disattaching the patient’s head from his neck and taking the tumor out and reattaching his head back onto his neck.”
It was the first time that anyone in the world had attempted this type of procedure, and there was some uncertainty as to whether Josevski would even survive the surgery, which took place in December. It took 15 hours for the surgical team to remove the tumor and insert the implant in its place. Thanks to careful pre-planning, though, once the tumor was removed the implant was able to be slotted in easily, fitting “like a glove.”
“I must say that it was a delight to put in, because after spending 15 hours taking out a very complicated tumor, it was beautiful just to slot in the implant and to have it fit so nicely and to be able to reconstruct the space left by the tumor,” said Dr. Mobbs. “The surgery went really, really well.”
The surgery wasn’t without complications; Josevski is still having some trouble eating and speaking two months later. He is able to move his head and neck easily, though, and while it will likely take several months for him to recover full eating and speaking capabilities, he is improving every day. He will be able to attend his daughter Tanya’s wedding, and, he hopes, eventually meet his future grandchildren. After being given such a grim prognosis only a few short months ago, a few complications must seem like a small price to pay for the years of life he now has to look forward to.The lifesaving procedures that doctors have been able to accomplish with 3D printing are astonishing, and it’s beginning to seem as though no surgery is impossible anymore, no matter how complicated. If a complex and dangerous cancer like Josevski’s was able to be removed so thoroughly, other patients should have a lot of reason to hope.
“3D printing of body parts is the next phase of individualised health care,” said Dr. Mobbs. “To restore bones, joints, organs with this type of technology really is super exciting. And, you know, Australia is supposed to be the smart country. Well, here is our opportunity to really take it out there and to keep pushing the boundaries on the whole 3D-printed body part business.”
Discuss this amazing procedure in the 3D Printed Titanium Vertebral Implant forum over at 3DPB.com.[Source: ABC Australia]
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