Tantalum is a rare, blue-gray metal, with an extremely high melting point of over 3,000°C, and researchers have mixed it with titanium alloys before to improve the stress absorption of 3D printed implants. Because the melting point of tantalum metal is too high to produce using most 3D printers on the market, 3D printed metal implants are more likely to be made using a metal like titanium, but custom 3D printed tantalum implants do offer some unique positive characteristics. They are more compact, which can help make the implants more stable, thus reducing the risk of surgical complication and time in the operating room, as well as making the surgery itself more simple.Recently, the First Hospital Affiliated to AMU completed what is believed to be the first knee replacement surgery using a 3D printed implant made out of tantalum.
Professor Yang Liu, head of the surgical department at the hospital, explained, “Total knee replacement is the most effective way to treat late-stage knee diseases, as it can reduce the pain for patients and improve their quality of life.”
When surgeons perform a conventional knee replacement surgery, they choose an off-the-shelf implant from a range of fixed sizes, and then spend a lot of precious time during the surgery making adjustments to it so the implant fits the patient. In addition, patients can also suffer from bone defects of varying shapes and sizes around the joint post-surgery, due to reasons such as post-operative infections. Unfortunately, most modular metals can’t be used to fix these defects – until now.
More and more Chinese surgeons are beginning to introduce 3D printing technology to their surgical procedures, which is of great benefit to their patients due to reduced surgical time and complications. Professor Liu, who works on an implantation research project with the National Key Research and Development Program of China, also collaborates with several domestic companies in order to 3D print porous tantalum joints, such as the one used for 84-year-old Zhang Jingui’s recent knee replacement surgery.Professor Liu used CAD, 3D printing technology, and tantalum metal to make the implant itself, while tantalum pads were used to fill the patient’s large bone defects. The implant is said to be the world’s first 3D printed tantalum knee joint, and thanks to the technology, the surgery itself was far less risky for the elderly patient.
The very first day after his knee replacement surgery, Zhang had regained some knee mobility, and was able to perform a few basic movements in his hospital room. He should be able to go home in four to five days…proving once again that 3D printing technology can be used to make our lives better.
Let us know your thoughts on this, and other 3D printing topics, at 3DPrintBoard.com or share your thoughts in the Facebook comments below.[Sources: CGTN, MedNews.am]