For the first time in history, a patient has received a custom 3D-printed titanium implant, designed to replace part of his ribcage.
The patient is a 54-year-old Spanish man who had a cancerous tumor growing in his chest, one which spread to his sternum and to part of his rib cage. To completely remove the tumor, surgeons had to remove part of his rib cage.
The rib cage itself is complex and difficult to replicate. Often when patients lose part of their rib cage, a flat plate is used to reinforce the rib cage's structure. These plates aren't the best option, however, as they can come loose and can cause complications.
Using 3D printing, however, doctors can create a viable option for replacing bones on a patient-by-patient basis.
The rib cage implant itself was built by Anatomics, a Melbourne, Australia-based company that was commissioned by the Salamanca University Hospital in Spain. The team was able to use highly detailed CT scans of the chest of the patient to recreate the chest wall and accurately cut a new rib cage. The scan itself is unique to the patient, meaning doctors would not, for example, be able to use this scan to print a rib cage for someone else.
To print the piece, Anatomics sent its plan to the 3D printing lab at Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation, the federal government agency for scientific research in Australia. CSIRO has a 3D printer worth $1.3 million that is able to print metal.
"The advantage of 3D printing is its rapid prototyping," said Adam Knight from the CSIRO in a blog post. "When you're waiting for life-saving surgery this is the definitely the order of the day."
Once the part was printed, it was sent to Spain where it was implanted into the patient. It was implanted two weeks ago, and the patient is recovering.
Here's a video explaining the process.