Aug. 18, 2014

Surgeons in China have performed the world's first vertebra replacement surgery using customized vertebra created with a 3D printer.

12-year-old Minghao cracked one vertebra in his neck following his fall from football play. Later it was confirmed that he had tumor in the second cervical vertebra (C2) that enable most neck movement. The tumor can result in irreversible spinal cord injury and needed to be surgically removed.

Surgeons in Peking University Third Hospital in Beijing, led by Liu Zhongjun, director of the department, decided to bring customization to vertebra replacement for the first time.

Once the C2 vertebra was removed, the surgeons placed an implant between the first and third vertebra. Dr. Liu said that using the existing technology the patient's head needs to be 'framed' with pins after surgery. His head can not touch the bed when he is resting, and he has to keep this position for at least three months. "But with 3D printing technology, we can simulate the shape of the vertebra, which is much stronger and more convenient than traditional methods." said Liu.

The surgery lasted for almost five hours. This is the first time a 3D printed vertebra is used in the orthopedic spine surgery in the world, Liu said. Five days after the operation Minghao still could not speak and had to use the writing board to communicate but doctors say he is in a good physical condition and will recover soon.

"We started clinical trials on 3D printed implants late last year, and now we have used dozens of such implants for more than 40 patients," he said.

"All the patients recover very well. Nobody seems to have any undesirable side effects or adverse reaction."

"3D printing technology has two very nice features: 1. It can print specific structures; 2. It is capable of producing porous metal." Liu explained. "For example atlantoaxial is an oddly shaped vertebra, the shapes of orthopedic implants used nowadays are usually geometric patterns and can not attach to bones firmly. But 3D printed implant fits perfectly and could greatly enhance the firmness."

For porous metal, Liu Zhongjun said that pre-clinical studies have indicated that bone can grow into the metal pores, and enhance the strength of the implant. "In the past we used clinical titanium mesh, but with the growth of bone, titanium mesh could easily stuck into the bone and cause collapse. 3D printed implants fit the bone completely. And as a result, not only the pressure on the bone is reduced, but it also allows the bone to grow into the implants."

"In this aspect, 3-D printed implants are more reliable than traditional ones," Liu said.

Currently Liu and his team are waiting for official approval of 3D printed orthopedic implants from Chinese health authority.


Posted in 3D Printing Applications

Maybe you also like:


Leave a comment:

Your Name:


Subscribe us to Feeds twitter facebook   

About provides the latest news about 3D printing technology and 3D printers. We are now seven years old and have around 1.5 million unique visitors per month.

News Archive