Sep 11, 2015 | By Alec

As 3D printing is steadily invading hospitals all over the world and saving lives wherever it goes, we are constantly confronted with 3D printed parts that seemed absolutely impossible to create just days before. This has just happened again thanks to the work of Australian 3D printing company and government-backed Lab 22, who 3D printed the world’s first sternum and rib cage for a Spanish cancer patient. This remarkable implant was fully customized to replace the damage caused by a chest wall sarcoma.

All of this was possible by the recent opening of state-of-the-art metal 3D printing centre Lab 22, which was opened in Victoria (near Melbourne) by the CSIRO (Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation) earlier this year. Costing $6 million, it was designed to accelerate adoption of metal 3D printing in Australia and provides Australian companies with affordable access to specialist additive manufacturing equipment and expertise. It also offers huge efficiency and productivity benefits for product development.

It’s there that Melbourne-based medical company Anatomics turned to, when faced with a problematic Spanish patient. The 54 year old man was suffering from a particularly difficult chest wall sarcoma (a growing cancer that in this case grew around the a large portion of the rib cage). This was hitherto impossible to operate on, as it would require the replacement of a significant portion of the very complex chest. However, 3D printing proved to be capable of fully customizing a sternum and rib cage to suit this specific case.

While some chest implants have been done before, none of those solutions worked. The plates and other pieces usually come loose over time and bring in a whole host of complications. Which is exactly why the surgeons from the Salamanca University Hospital turned to the Australian company. Using high resolution CT scans, they created an exact 3D reconstruction of the wall and tumor, enabling the surgeons to plan the surgery and determine exactly what would be removed.

This was then used to create a 3D printable model in Australia, for which the $1.3 million AUD (US$920,000) Arcam 3D printer was used, which layers metal particles with an electron beam. You can see this machine in progress below. The resultant implant was couriered to Spain immediately afterwards.

There, the very detailed implant was implanted into the patient’s chest, where surgeons found that the piece exactly matched the open spaces created by the previous removal surgery. All bone slots fitted perfectly, and everything was tightly screwed into place. Earlier today, Australia’s Industry and Science Minister Ian Macfarlane reported that everything was successful. The operation took place twelve days ago, and the patient has already been discharged from hospital and is doing well.



Posted in 3D Printing Applications



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