Apr. 15, 2015 | By Alec

A young woman has recently undergone a high-risk surgery in a hospital in South China to replace her scapula with a titanium replica. The surgery was necessitated by a recent discovery by doctors that three-fourths of the 27-year-old’s scapula (conventionally known as a shoulder blade) had been ‘eaten’ away by a tumor.

As you might know, the development of medical applications of 3D printing technology is big right now in the medical industry. While most bioprinting innovations will still take a few years to be implemented, other applications such as 3D printed implants have already been used with great success in academic hospitals throughout the world. Especially Chinese patients have already begun benefitting from these highly precise implants, and the 27-yeara old miss. Li also falls in that category.

This case was especially complex - Li’s situation had rapidly deteriorated over the last year. The resident of Jieyang first noticed pains in her left shoulder about a year ago, which quickly became an unbearable pain that negatively affected her whole life. She quickly began to find it difficult to dress or comb her hair, as her hands were continuously affected by terrible cramps.

In March of this year, she finally went to a local hospital, where doctors found shadows in her left shoulder. Following their advice, Li went to the second people's Hospital of Shenzhen for more help. After examinations with CT and MRI scanners, the doctors determined that she was likely suffering from a gigantic invasive tumor in the scapula.

This serious condition could have been disastrous. As Zhang Shiquan, Deputy Director of bone and joint, bone Oncology at the hospital revealed, her shoulder would have needed to be amputated if she came in just a few months later. ‘The invasive tumor of the scapula that Li has will develop cancer, while it has will causes a lytic destructive process as well. This will slowly 'eat' good bones in human body, and three-fourths of her scapula had already been ‘eaten’ away,’ he argued. ‘Without timely surgery, more bones would have been shredded, something that even surgery cannot completely fix.’

The surgery itself is quite complex as well, and comes with additional risks. Patients undergoing surgery are often unable to take care of themselves in the future and simply become disabled. After extensive discussions, the hospital decided to go through with it however, and chose to rely on 3D printing technology to maximize the chance of successful rehabilitation. Teaming up with a 3D printing company, they decided to 3D print a replica of Li’s scapula.

Initial 3D printed model serving as basis for creating the part in titanium.

Her medical data and scans were used to make a plastic 3D printed prototype, complete with all surgical screw holes already marked on the model. The model were then sent to a local artificial limb factory where a titanium implant was made.

Miss Li underwent surgery earlier this week, and fortunately the entire operation was a success. The 3D printed model made surgery as easy as possible and removed unnecessary risk of complications. Total medical costs for the implant were just about 100,000RMB (or about $16,000).

The implant.

It was the first time a titanium scapula was successfully implanted in South China, and Li is reportedly doing well. After more than a year of medical problems, she is now on scheduled to be released from hospital in two days and can finally continue her normal life again in about six months.



Posted in 3D Printing Applications


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