July 9, 2015 | By Alec

Though we here at 3ders.org enjoy speculating about the ongoing revolution that 3D printing is causing the medical world, things must look a bit different when you’re a patient. Perhaps unsprisingly, Chinese patient Mrs. Gu described her 3D printed implant as a ‘miracle’ and as a ‘protector'. The 54-year-old woman from Luoyang City in China recently underwent surgery in the TangDu Hospital in Xi’an, becoming the first patient in the world to receive a 3D printed titanium sternal implant.

This miraculous sense of relief is perhaps unsurprising. With a tremendous sense of relief, she said, ‘my heart now has a sturdy guardian’. Mrs. Gu also felt very very lucky that this technology was available. ‘The magical of combination of high quality technology and advanced medical knowledge now really exists.’ And if you’re a patient with a dangerous condition, it definitely seems miraculous. The 54-year-old was diagnosed with a tumor in her sternum a year ago, which quickly caused a lot of medical problems. Excessive growth quickly caused the tumor to press on her chest, causing pain, tightness, a shortness of breath and other complications.

Visiting a number of hospitals with her husband, most doctors advised the dangerous removal of the sternal. Upon visiting the TangDu Hospital of the Fourth Military Medical University, they met Wang Xiaoping, the Deputy Director of the thoracic surgery department. As he explained, their chest surgical experts discussed possible treatment methods at length. The problem was that the tumor was now about six or seven centimeters in size, meaning surgery was urgent. However, removal in turn could cause large defects in the chest region, including respiratory problems, while also severely impacting her appearance.

‘If the chest bone is resected, the heart area loses its ‘protective’ walls,’ Wang Xiaoping explained. ‘With traditional surgical resection of the substernal, patients cannot go to crowded places or even embrace loved ones, and patients with serious conditions may faint. That’s why a traditional resection is not an ideal option.’ The professor further said that, after a lot of discussion, it was decided to go for a revolutionary option: after removal of the tumors, they would implant a 3D printed titanium alloy sternum, which is an exact copy of the patient’s previous chest structure.

It is believed that this is the first time a 3D printed titanium sternum implant was surgically used. ‘We have never heard of any case about 3D printed titanium sternal implants. We contacted the relevant authorities and discovered that this is the first time that 3D printed titanium implants were ever used for sternal tumors and diseases,’ he added.

But as you might expect, this was relatively difficult to manufacture. As the hospital’s Ultrasound Diagnostic Department Professor and 3D printing team leader Cao Tiesheng said, they began working on a suitable replacement program as soon as risk assessment was completed. Problematically, the size of the tumor made it difficult to get precise data – something which massively complicates design (as all of us must have experienced). ‘Everybody has a different bone structure and we have thought about a lot of ways to solve this problem. Eventually, we found a lady with similar characteristics, such as height, weight and so on, to stand in for her. We collected her sternum data and combined that with what we know of Mrs. Gu’s sternum. After multiple correlations and tests – a process that lasted several weeks – we finally had a working 3D model of her sternum,’ he says.

Professor Cao Tiesheng added that they made a 1:1 scale 3D printed plastic model to fully verify suitability. They subsequently commissioned the  State Key Laboratory of Solidification Processing, from the School of Materials Science and Engineering of Northwestern Polytechnical University, to 3D print the implantable titanium sternal model. After manufacturing, the sternum model underwent a series of stringent medical treatments.

Surgery itself took place on June 22, with the patient recovering smoothly and without complications so far. ‘Well now, I don't feel anything at all,’ Gu said when asked about her condition. Her husband jokingly added: ‘with this hard titanium protection, your heart will be more powerful, and you will recover soon.’


Posted in 3D Printing Applications



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