Stories of 3D printing being used to create custom medical implants are becoming more and more commonplace. However, there’s something so akin to a miracle in the way that the implants are created and in the powerful impact on those who receive them that it will be a while yet before we are jaded enough to not consider these stories news.
The most recent 3D printed implant to garner international attention comes out of Australia and into the body of a 54-year-old Spanish cancer patient. The patient was suffering from a chest wall sarcoma that necessitated the removal of his sternum as well as a portion of his rib cage. Once removed, these bones would have to be replaced with a titanium implant, which created a new set of problems that needed to be addressed.
The medical team at Salamanca University Hospital in Spain began to examine the possibilities for 3D printing the implant rather than relying on traditional fabrication methods. Creating the implant with 3D printing offered several advantages, not least of which were the ability to completely customize the implant, do so relatively quickly, and to create a design that would counter some of the problems historically present in flat titanium implant design.
While the sternum and rib cage compose a very complex system, 3D printing is set up to tackle just this sort of difficulty. Using information gathered from scans of the patient’s body, Australian medical device company Anatomics was called in to create the implant that was needed in conjunction with the Spanish medical team. To print the implant, they turned to the metal 3D printing facilities, called Lab 22, that the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO) had opened in Victoria this past May.
In a statement issued by Salamanca University Hospital, Dr. José Aranda, a doctor involved in the procedure, explained their relationship with the Australian company:
“We thought, maybe we could create a new type of implant that we could fully customize to replicate the intricate structures of the sternum and ribs. We wanted to provide a safer option for our patient, and improve their recover post-surgery.”
The implant was created using an Arcam 3D printer in Lab 22 which uses electron beam melting to build up layers of titanium power and melt them together. Once the fusing process is complete, extra powder is vacuumed away, leaving the fully formed implant ready to be cleaned and used in surgery. Alex Kingsbury, Additive Manufacturing Research Leader at CSIRO, demonstrated the implant in a video released to the public (watch it above), and showed its unique design, meant to accommodate the end pieces of the remaining rib bone and be screwed into place. Even more importantly, the patient who received the implant has been discharged from the hospital and is recovering well.
Let us know you thoughts on yet another awesome use of 3D printing within the medical field. Discuss in the 3D Printed Ribs and Sternum forum thread on 3DPB.com.