Woman With the Metal Chest: Surgeons Implant World’s First 3D Printed Titanium Sternum

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sternum63D printing has begun to gain a lot of traction lately within various medical fields because of its tremendous ability to create one-off custom objects. Whether it is a medical model in the exact shape of a patient’s organs, or an implant which mimics real human tissue, 3D printing will continue to play a major role in the future of medicine.

It’s not just the future that looks so bright though, as doctors and surgeons all around the world are already utilizing 3D printing for a variety of treatments. For one 54-year-old woman, by the name of Ms. Gu, the rapid advancement in 3D printing technology could not have come soon enough.

Last June, Ms. Gu, of Luoyang, China visited her doctor after suffering from chest pain, tightness in her chest, and shortness of breath. It was discovered that Gu was not suffering from a heart attack, but instead had a large tumor located on her sternum. After seeing several doctors to try and figure out a solution for the tumor, it was determined that the only thing that was possible was for her sternum to be completely removed, which would ultimately leave Ms. Gu with an exposed heart, and many medical problems in the future.

That is until the patient visited the Tang Du Hospital, Fourth Military Medical University, where doctors were able to come up with a breakthrough method of treating her condition. Professor Wang Xiaoping, teamed with several other doctors and surgeons to come up with a surgical plan. This plan looked to reduce the issues that arise when a patient’s sternum is removed. The conclusion was made that they would remove Ms. Gu’s sternum, but would also replace it with an “exact” replica of her original sternum, in the form of 3D printed titanium.

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“If a piece of the chest bone is resected (removed), the patient’s heart loses its ‘protective’ wall.” Wang Xiaoping explained, “After traditional sternum resection surgery, the patient can not go into crowded places, or even hug other people, and in severe cases the patient may randomly faint. Thus, this conventional sternum surgery is not the ideal choice.”

sternum4The surgery would be groundbreaking, in that it had never been attempted previously, making Ms. Gu a guinea pig of sorts.

“3D printing of a titanium sternal implant replacement, had not seen before,” Xiaoping said. “We referred to the relevant authority, and they found that this is the first surgery both at home and abroad for using a 3D printed implantable titanium sternum into the human body. “

There was one problem however. Because Ms. Gu’s sternum was so ravaged by the 6-7cm tumor that was attached, it was impossible to take an accurate 3D scan of her actual bone in order to create the titanium replica. Because of this, doctors needed to collect data from other women who were the same height and weight as Ms. Gu. They then combined this data with the data that they could retrieve from the patient herself, to replicate the bone as well as they could.

Using the data, the surgical team was able to 3D print a 1:1 plastic replica of Ms. Gu’s chest with the help of Professor Cao Tiesheng. They used this 3D printed model to make sure everything was set in place before commissioning the State Key Laboratory of Solidification Processing, at Northwestern Polytechnical University to ultimately 3D print the titanium sternum for the patient.

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The surgery took place on June 22, and took about 2.5 hours to complete. There were absolutely no complications and it was deemed a success. Both patient and the medical team are very pleased with the results.

“My heart which is now protected by this strong ‘guardian’, is suddenly at ease,” Ms. Gu said after surgery. “The magic of high-tech medical technology combined with superb medical care, really helped make this miracle happen.”

sternum2While Ms. Gu does have a long scar on her chest to remind her of this groundbreaking surgery, she is now back to normal, and can live a fulfilling life.

What do you think about this groundbreaking surgery? Will we begin to see more surgeries like this in the future? Discuss in the 3D Printed Sternum forum thread on 3DPB.com.

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