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“Look at my arm, it can stretch up to here, a few months ago, I needed to hold my left arm everyday, because there was no elbow joint.” – 20-year-old Li Xian-hui

elbow4From knees to hips to craniums to facial bone structures, we have seen a slew of interesting 3D printed implants customized and then inserted into patients to provide them with a more fulfilling and/or less painful lifestyle. Just a couple of years ago you would have been hard pressed to find only a handful of stories related to surgeons 3D printing implants for the human body. Fast forward a couple of years, and such procedures seem to be almost commonplace.

With that said, one Chinese hospital has piqued our curiosity once again, this time with a 3D printed elbow joint. A 20-year-old Chinese man named Li Xian-hui had suffered an unfortunate work injury earlier this year. A heavy machine had crushed his left arm, including his wrist and elbow joints. The local hospital was able to save the man’s arm; however, the arm had become relatively useless because of the incredible damage it had suffered.

elbo2

After depression set in, and the pain had become unbearable, Li Xian-hui decided something had to be done, as he could not continue living this way. He finally turned to the Hospital of Dalian Medical University for help, where Dr. Liang Hai-dong thoroughly examined his arm. After much consideration Dr. Hai-dong decided to turn to 3D printing in order to repair Li Xian-hui’s elbow.

“This is my first time to apply the 3D printing technology to the elbow arthroplasty. This is the second case in our province,” stated Dr. Liang Hai-dongelbow1

With the help of a second hospital at Jilin University, which had 3D printed a titanium pelvis implant for a cancer patient earlier in the year, Dr. Liang Hai-dong was able to move forward with preparations for Li Xian-hui’s surgery.

To start they took a CT scan of the elbow, which they sent off to a prosthetic manufacturer based in Beijing. The manufacturer turned the CT scan into a 3D printable model, and then printed it using a laser sintering method with titanium powder. The entire process took approximately two weeks to complete, from scan to final printed implant. When finished, surgeons had a near-perfect match for Li Xian-hui’s arm.

It was now time to operate. Surgeons were able to fit the 3D printed implant perfectly between Xian-hui’s humerus and ulna bones. The entire procedure took less than half the amount of time a typical elbow joint surgery would have because of the simplicity and accuracy of the implant itself. As for Li Xian-hui post-operation? He’s doing great. He now has much better movement and flexibility, and the joint is actually much stronger than that of a typical human elbow.

Let’s hear your thoughts on yet another incredible use for 3D printing within the medical field. Discuss this story in the 3D Printed Elbow Joint forum thread on 3DPB.com.

[Special thanks to Shen Hua  / translation by Kitty Wang]
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