Nov 19, 2015 | By Benedict

Researchers at RMIT University have joined forces with medical device specialist Anatomics to produce a 3D printed vertebral cage for a patient with severe back pain. The medical device is Australia’s first 3D printed spine implant.


Present and future medical applications of 3D printing are diverse and numerous. 3D printed surgical models are becoming more and more common in pre-operative planning; 3D printed prostheses provide an unprecedented level of customization for patients; and scientists continue to follow the long road towards 3D printing a functional human organ. Amongst these many medical uses of 3D printing technology, bone implants and supports are becoming increasingly popular with medical professionals. This week, Australia saw its first ever 3D printed spine implant, as RMIT University and Anatomics pooled their resources to give life-changing back support to patient Amanda Gorvin.

Gorvin had found herself suffering with excruciating lower back pain due to an abnormal structure of the fifth lumbar vertebra and severe degeneration of the adjacent disc. "My quality of life was rubbish," she confessed. The patient was referred to spine surgery specialist Dr Marc Coughlan at the North Gosford and Prince of Wales Hospitals. Coughlan saw surgery as the best solution, but there was a problem obstructing that possibility. Because of the unusual shape of the patient’s vertebrae, Coughlan feared that an off-the-shelf implant would provide little relief to the patient. The solution? 3D printing, of course. The doctor approached Melbourne medical device company Anatomics about an additive manufacturing collaboration in order to help Gorvin.

Anatomics was keen to get on board, and worked with Professor Milan Brandt and his team at RMIT's Centre for Additive Manufacturing at the Advanced Manufacturing Precinct to design and develop the 3D printed titanium spinal implant for Gorvin.

"This revolutionary process allows the implant to be built layer by layer, adding successive layers of material under computer control - as opposed to the subtractive manufacturing techniques of casting, fabrication, stamping and machining," Brandt explained. "An advantage of 3D printing is that a custom implant can be made of any shape and complex internal architecture for a reasonable cost.”

The scientific supergroup, consisting of specialists from Anatomics and RMIT, used a CT scan of the patient’s spine in order to build an accurate 3D image of her spine. From this image, the team were able to design the customized implant, whilst LifeHealthcare, a second medical device supplier, provided some additional parts. The implant took around ten hours to 3D print.

Three months after her 3D printed spinal implant was fitted, Gorvin has returned to her normal life, and is now free from significant pain. "I feel like I've got my life back," she said.



Posted in 3D Printing Application



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