May 12, 2015 | By Simon

While we may not be 3D printing entire human organs or other body parts yet, the developments that we’ve seen thus far for additive manufacturing in the world of medicine have been nothing short of remarkable.  

Among other applications, we’ve seen how creating custom physical models of a body region before a surgical procedure can help doctors better understand a surgery before operating, how advanced bioengineering technologies are helping pave the way for the creation of 3D printed organs for transplants and of course, how additive manufacturing technologies are helping dramatically lower the cost of getting a custom prosthetic device made.

More recently, a surgery in China on a young woman further helped highlight how 3D printing can help in even the most delicate of surgeries - such as those having to do with the spinal cord.   

After suffering from numbness and feeling physically unbalanced, a 28-year old woman by the name of Yan went in for a doctor’s exam seeking a diagnosis.  What was found by the doctors is something that no normal and healthy young adult wants to hear: her third cervical vertebra had a serious congenital malformation that was causing her to suffer from a condition known as atlantoaxial dislocation.  For sufferers of this rare condition, nerves near the tail of the spinal cord compress which results in a lack of feeling and movement.  

Due to the sensitive nature of spinal surgery, Yan's doctor, Dr. Mei Wei, Pan Yu Lin and Guo Xiao Wei - along with their team of assistants at the Orthopaedic Hospital of Zhengzhou City - concluded that in order to ensure that they will execute the surgery with the smallest margin of error possible, that they would need to perform practice surgery ahead of time using a 3D printed replica of Yan's spine.

To create the 3D printed spine, Mei and his team used existing X-ray and CT scan data to create a digital replica model.  Once the mesh was cleaned up and prepped for manufacturing, it was sent to a 3D printer to be fabricated.

Once the final 3D printed replica of Yan’s spine was received, Mei and his team went to work practicing their procedure repeatedly.  The complicated procedure consisted of isolating and opening the problem area, freeing soft tissue, resetting the dislocation and then screwing everything back together again - all without damaging Yan’s spinal cord.  

According to Dr. Mei, the surgery was a success thanks in no small part to the rehearsals that he and the team were able to complete before the actual operation.  After a month of being out of surgery, Yan is already reporting a significant improvement in her balance and has regained feeling in her previously-numb areas.  

While many talented doctors - such as Dr. Mei -  might have been able to perform the surgery without practicing on a 3D printed replica, it’s safe to say that just like anything else - it doesn’t hurt to practice!

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