shouldersurgery2When most people hear the phrases “additive manufacturing” or “3D printing”, they usually picture the technology being put to use in large factories, creating prototypes, or in someone’s garage who’s making little plastic trinkets. However, as of late, 3D printing has been gaining ground within the medical field, as doctors and surgeons are really beginning to understand the potential that it has in creating prostheses.

For one 27-year-old Chinese woman, named Li Jieyang, 3D printing literally saved her left arm. It all started one day last year when Li began suffering from pain in her shoulder. She brushed it off as a simple sprain, even though the swelling and inflamation just continued to worsen.

“I would be combing my hair and all of a sudden my hand would inconveniently cramp up,” Li explained.

shouldersurgery1Li lived with the tumor for over 6-months and had been experiencing pain for over 2-months before some of her relatives decided to take action. After much suffering, and realizing that her pain wasn’t getting any better, Li’s family decided to take her to The Second People’s Hospital of Shenzhen, where she was thoroughly examined, using CT scans, MRIs and other various tests. To her surprise and discouragement, Li was told that she had a very large and aggressive tumor on her left scapula.

“Fortunately, she came here just in time to for treatment,” said Deputy Director of the Hospital, Renzhang Shi. “If she waited another 2 months, she probably would have needed to have had her shoulder amputated.”

The tumor that Li was suffering from was very invasive, and it had eaten away 75% of her scapula bone. Typically surgeries to remove such a tumor and then replace the deteriorated bone are extremely difficult, if not impossible. Many patients in Li’s condition would have previously faced the potential of having their entire shoulder and perhaps even arm removed.

shouldersurgery5Thanks to 3D printing technology though, doctors were able to create an exact replica of Jiayang’s original shoulder bones, and then create a titanium replacement which could be inserted into her body. The surgery was successfully completed earlier this month, and officially deemed a success by the hospital just yesterday.

To create the 3D printed titanium shoulder prosthesis, Shiquan Zhang’s team took a CT image of the afflicted area, and then used special computer software to generate an “exact” 3D rendering. They then used a resin-based 3D printer to fabricate a mold of a replacement scapula for Li. This mold was then sent to a larger production facility where a titanium prothesis was made from it.

shouldersurgery4As for Li, she is expected to make a full recovery after some more time recovering in the hospital and additional rehab. It is expected that she will be completely back to normal within 6 months. In the meantime, friends and family are calling her “Iron Shoulder”.

This is just one more great example of how 3D printing is making a huge impact in medicine. What do you think about this latest accomplishment by Chinese doctors? Discuss in the 3D Printed Shoulder Replacement Forum thread on 3DPB.com.  Check out some more photos below.

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