Aug 14, 2017 | By Benedict

Doctors in China have completed a highly complex cervical vertebra replacement using 3D printed bones. The 28-year-old patient had been diagnosed with chondrosarcoma, a rare form of bone cancer.

Chondrosarcoma, a form of cancer that affects bone cartilage, is prone to relapse and therefore difficult to treat with chemotheraphy. So when 28-year-old Xiao Wen was found to have the cancer in her neck, her medical team in Shanghai decided to try something completely new.

Wen’s tumor was encroaching on six of the seven bones of her cervical vertebra, and doctors decided it would have to be removed. Unfortunately, this meant that the damaged bones would also need to be removed, leaving a gaping hole in the neck area of the patient’s spine.

Because of the length of the damaged spine, there was no appropriate implant available on the Chinese market. So after several consultations, doctors at the Shanghai Changzheng Hospital decided to attempt something nobody had ever done before: replace Wen’s cancerous bones with 3D printed replicas.

Although 3D printing has been used to print replacement vertebrae in the past, the sheer size of Wen’s tumor meant that the Chinese doctors were venturing into unchartered territory.

The process of 3D printing the artificial bones took around three weeks, with a scale model of Wen’s vertebrae used to accelerate the process. The final replacement bones were 3D printed in titanium alloy, and measured around 14 centimeters (5.5 inches) long.

Making the bones, however, wasn’t even the hard part…

The hard part, of course, was putting the 3D printed bones into Wen and making sure the patient got through the procedure unscathed. But thanks to spinal surgeon Xiao Jianru, who led the proceedings, Wen had little to fear.

The operation to implant the 3D printed vertebrae was carried out in July, and took 13 grueling hours—first to remove the cancerous bones, and then to implant the 3D printed replacements.

The procedure was a success, and Wen is now recovering. Doctors say she can walk, though she is having trouble turning her head in a comfortable way.

Although chondrosarcoma is rare, the success of the 3D printing procedure in Shanghai shows that doctors are better prepared than ever to tackle complicated forms of cancer using the newest technologies available to them.

Earlier this year, doctors in China used a 3D printer to reconstruct the breast of a cancer patient. Additive manufacturing has also been used previously to create new 3D printed neck vertebrae.



Posted in 3D Printing Application



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