It is no longer a surprise when we hear stories of how 3D printing has taken a previously thought to be inoperable condition and turned it into a tremendous success story. The advent of the technology has seen many ups and downs over the years, but when it comes to the medical field, it has literally been a life saver.
Just ask a 6-year-old little boy in China, named Komine, who was born with a condition effecting about one in 20,000 newborns, called Osteogenesis Imperfecta (also known as “brittle bone disease” or Lobstein Syndrome). If you thought breaking a bone was the end of the world, Komine does this almost on a weekly basis. In fact, his bones had become so brittle, due to a mutation in his COL1A1 and COL1A2 genes, that an action as simple as running, turning around, bumping into something, or even sneezing would cause yet another fracture. In all, the boy had suffered at least 30 different fractures, with more and more occurring as time goes on. This continual fracture and healing process had unfortunately led to his legs becoming extremely deformed. They had actually bent almost completely around, forming a ring, and leaving the soles of his feet facing toward the sky rather than the ground.
Obviously this had caused Komine a lot of trouble, as he could no longer walk, and had extreme difficulty putting on a pair of pants. He was left living an extremely inactive life, which consisted of sitting on the couch watching cartoons, or crawling around with his hands and body. His parents felt that something needed to be done, but were told by physicians that there was not much hope. One hospital offered a surgical solution what would have only promised a 20% success rate, yet would have cost the family over 10 million Chinese Yuan (approximately $1.5 million). They were left hopeless until they discovered a team of orthopedic surgeons at the University of Hong Kong, Shenzhen Hospital.
Other hospitals were hesitant to operate and noted that the simple task of taking X-rays prior to surgery had become virtually impossible because of the odd shape of Komine’s legs. The team at Shenzhen Hospital, however, elected to use CT scans to create 3D printed replica’s of the boy’s legs, in order to better plan for the complicated surgery.
The team, consisting of orthopedic consultants Duqi Jun, and Huang Demin, deputy consultant Zhang Xiangyi, resident doctor Zhou Yapeng, and anesthesiologists Shi Xiaoyong, used the 3D printed replicas (pictured on this page) in order to carry out a very successful osteotomy with intramedullary fixation, leaving the boy with straight legs for the first time in a long time. The surgeons were able to insert several unique telescopic nails into the bone in order to provide the bone’s porcelain-like strength with a bit of reinforcement. These nails are built in such a way that they expand as the boy grows, so that subsequent surgeries will not be required in order to insert larger nails in the future. Without the 3D printed replicas of the boy’s real bones, planning for and conducting the surgery would have nearly been impossible.
Now the boy will be aided by the intravenous injection of bisphosphonates, which are used to strengthen his bones. While he has a long road ahead, things are looking up for this incredibly brave little boy. He is currently in rehab, after having the splints removed from his legs, and is now able to stand up on his own. He is expected to make progress to the point where he will one day soon walk on his own.
“Every time he exercises, his tendons and muscles become quite sore, but he is very strong and he doesn’t even cry.” Komine’s father explained.
This is just another tremendous example of how 3D printing is proving to be a life-changing technology not only in rapid prototyping, and through the creation of end-use products, but also within the medical field. What do you think about this incredible story? Discuss in the 3D Printing Medical Models forum thread on 3DPB.com.