Recently, a 12-year old Chinese boy sustained a serious injury in his spinal cord during a soccer match. However, the doctors at Peking University Third Hospital found that the boy had an underlying condition which was not revealed until then, a malignant tumor on his spinal cord. The doctors decided to remove the 2nd vertebra to stop the spreading of the disease. At this point, the doctors came to the conclusion that they have only one option left, replacing the vertebra with a 3D printed vertebra implant. A 3D printer was brought into action, and the boy got what no one else had ever received, a vertebral implant built with 3D printing technologies.
Pre-fabricated implants are commonly used by prosthetists for replacing the vertebra or other parts of human body. However, an implant built with 3D printing technologies can be translated into a horde of benefits for the surgeons. In the case of the Chinese boy, the doctors had optimally used the technology to match the morphology of the bone of the child. This way, they attained perfection and the implant was nicely fixated within the second vertebra (Source: IFL Science). They did not use screws or cement to fix the implant. It took much less time and the implant is considered future-proof. Since there are no screws, the implant will work for years together. The doctors used titanium instead of liquefied plastic, which is commonly used for making prosthetic devices, to model the 3D printed vertebral column implant. The implant comes with small holes that will allow natural growth of bone as the boy reaches maturity. This way, Peking University doctors actually redefined prosthesis, thanks to advanced 3D printing technologies.
The surgery took a little more than 5 hours and in the end, the boy was equipped with a halo that is designed to immobilize his neck and head for the next 3 months for obvious reasons. (Source: The Daily Mail)Though the boy had limited physical dexterity and could not speak after 5 days of the surgery, he has shown obvious signs of recovery and the doctors are quite hopeful that he will spring back to normal life in a few months.
3D printed prosthetic devices are gradually picking up in popularity, both in and outside the medical professional and researcher fraternity (Source: Forbes). Though this particular case was quite critical, doctors of the same hospital use 3D printed implants for replacing damaged discs. Surgeons in other parts of the world are also using 3D printing for rapid prototyping of prosthetic devices.