Back in August, we reported on the implantation of the world’s first 3D printed vertebrae, and it was surely a sign of things to come from the medical field. Usually once one procedure is successfully completed, other doctors and other hospitals throughout the world begin taking notice and start to consider using these same practices. Now, yet another patient has been successfully treated with 3D printed vertebrae, in a “first of its kind” surgery that took place on December 3 at the The First Affiliated Hospital located at the Zhejiang University School of Medicine in Hangzhou, China.
The patient? A 21-year-old university student named Wang Lin. Lin, who had been experiencing pain in her chest for quite some time, realized something was not right.
“I always have chest pain,” explained Lin. “The pain in the past month became more powerful, and I could not continue to live with it or focus on learning any longer.”
So Lin decided to go see the doctor at Zhejiang University and learned that she had been suffering from Ossifying Fibroma, which are benign bone lesions that were forming in her spinal area. Ossifying Fibroma is a condition consisting of a type of bone tumor that is extremely rare, especially around the vertebrae.
“Her two thoracic vertebrae had been damaged, leaving only a small part that was still good,” explained Zhejiang University’s director of orthopedic surgery.
Normal surgery for this type of condition is extremely risky and involves removal of the osteolytic lesions, which tends to leave the vertebrae quite deteriorated. These vertebrae then need to be reinforced and ultimately recasted. Many times patients are left with permanent damage and the surgery itself can be extremely risky because of the fact that every person’s bones are different from the next. Just like we all have different finger prints, we also all have differently shaped and sized bone structure.
Typically when artificial vertebrae are inserted into a person’s body, they need to be filed down, and/or modified to ensure a perfect or near perfect fit. This can take many attempts by surgeons and can make surgery not only extremely risky, but also a very long and arduous process. The process is based on a surgeon’s knowledge of, and ability to, properly read the X-ray and CT images and then transfer what they see on these 2-dimensional images into a living human body.
To try and get around these risks as well as come up with a better long term solution, surgeons at the Zhejiang University School of Medicine decided to use 3D printing. 3D printing allowed them to use CT scan data to create a virtual 3D model of Lin’s spine. Using this, they could then create a perfectly fitting 3D printed titanium implant. Through an incision in Lin’s chest, this device could be inserted in place of the affected vertebrae.
This is exactly what surgeons did. Lin’s 10th and 11th vertebrae, along with affected surrounding tissue, was removed. Then the 3D printed titanium replacement was inserted, fitting perfectly to Lin’s spine. The surgery was a complete success and Lin is expected to make a full recovery.
3D printed titanium is starting to gain a lot of support recently. Titanium has been used as the “metal of choice” by doctors for implants, as the human body’s immune system does not try and fight it off like other materials and other metals. The ability to 3D print titanium using technology such as selective laser sintering will go a long way in providing new medical breakthroughs in the near future. This is just one of the incredible cases that we will be witnessing over the course of the next few years.
What do you think? Will 3D printing ultimately lead to finding solutions to many problems that were not previously treatable, or issues which were extremely risky to treat in the past? Discuss in the ‘3D printed titanium spine implant’ forum thread on 3DPB.com.