The field of medicine is one of the first to benefit from these applications.
Last month, we told you about the potential of 3D printing to possibly revolutionize the field of Prosthetics and Implants.
Chinese doctors have been researching these possibilities of additive printing in orthopedics for the past few years and it seems their efforts have finally bore fruit.
Li, a 27 year old woman from China, had her shoulder almost completely eaten away by a bone cancer. Today, she’s leading a normal life all thanks to 3D printing .
Li first noticed pain in her left shoulder about a year ago but since the pain was mild, she considered it a simple sprain and completely ignored it. However, the pain continued to increase until she couldn’t even brush her hair without causing serious pain in her shoulder. It was at this point that she decided to consult the doctors of Shenzhen Second People’s Hospital in South China.
After conducting numerous tests, including CT Scans and MRI, the doctors at the hospital found that she was suffering from a cancer of the scapula or shoulder blade. The cancer was highly invasive and had destroyed most of her scapula. If left unchecked, it could spread to other bones and eat them away as well. However, the good news was that she had come just in time to avoid amputation of her shoulder. Renzhang Shi, the deputy director of the hospital, explains her timely visit:
“Fortunately, she came here just in time to for treatment. If she had waited another 2 months, she probably would have needed to have her shoulder amputated.”
Then, they remove the patient’s own scapula and replace it with an artificial implant created based on these estimates. As is obvious, the implant doesn’t always fit perfectly, causing several complications during and after surgery.
However, the doctors of Shenzhen Hospital knew that they had a better option in the form of 3D printing. So, instead of the traditional procedure, they opted to use 3D printing.
They used the imaging data to create a three-dimensional model of Li’s scapula in a computer. Then, they modified the model to include surgical holes in it. Finally, using a 3D printer, they printed out an exact plastic replica of her scapula.
The plastic replica was then used as a mold to fabricate a titanium implant. Equipped with the exact replica of Li’s scapula, orthopedic surgeons got ready to perform a complicated operation on her shoulder. The operation, which cost around 100,000 RMB (about $16,000) in total, was carried out last month and fortunately, was a great success. Li’s cancerous scapula was completely removed and replaced with the titanium implant. She was discharged from the hospital within a few days of the operation and according to her doctors, she will be able to lead a perfectly normal life within a few months.
Chinese doctors and surgeons have been working tirelessly for the past few years to bring the limitless potential of 3D printing to orthopedics. Thus, it should come as no surprise that Li’s successful shoulder replacement isn’t the first of its kind. Just last year, three Chinese patients, with bone tumors similar to Li’s, were implanted with 3D Printed Titanium Prostheses in the Xijing Hospital, Xi’an.
Minghao, a 12 year old boy, was diagnosed with a cancer in his spine called Ewing sarcoma. He was also subjected to a similar surgery last year where a part of his vertebral column was removed and replaced with a 3D printed titanium implant at the Peking University of China.
Explaining the utility of 3D printing, Dr. Liu Zhongjun from Peking University says:
“With 3D printing technology, we can simulate the shape of the vertebra, which is much stronger and more convenient than traditional methods.”
Minghao’s case and the whole process of creating 3D printed bone implants is explained perfectly in a video on Reuter’s YouTube Channel.
The first obvious prospect is that 3D printing can make future orthopedic operations cheaper.
Traditionally, implant operations have been very expensive because of the high costs of the implants themselves. With 3D printing, the implants are much cheaper and easier to make. This could bring down the costs of the operations.
Another prospect is the reduction of complications. Since 3D printing is able to fabricate exact replicas of the patient’s bones, they fit perfectly into the patient’s body, unlike traditional implants which can cause loss of mobility and permanent disability even after the implant operation. So, 3D printing would be able to save a lot of patients from complications of orthopedic operations in the coming years.
Patients will also be able to recover more quickly. Finally, 3D Bioprinting provides another exciting prospect. With the development of 3D bone printing, it is possible that instead of titanium replicas, future patients could be implanted with exact bone replicas instead of titanium implants!
At present, bone fractures, deformities and tumors pose the largest problems in orthopedics. Even with their best efforts, present-day orthopedic doctors can’t completely cure some patients because of the limitations of the available technologies. This is where 3D printing comes in. As shown by the efforts of Chinese doctors, with its limitless possibilities, additive printing is the perfect technology for Revolutionizing Orthopedics.
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