During a recent five-hour operation, surgeons at a Peking University hospital in Beijing were able to remove a tumour located on the second vertebra of a 12-year-old cancer patient named Minghao and replace it with a 3D-printed part.
“This is the first use of a 3D-printed vertebra as an implant for orthopaedic spine surgery in the world,” said one of the surgeons, Director of Orthopaedics at Peking University, Liu Zhongjun, in a statement to the press. According to CBS News, before he made it into surgery, Minghao had been lying in the orthopaedics ward of the hospital for more than two months. He could barely stand up for more than a few minutes at a time due to the damage caused by a tumour growing in his neck. In the past, patients with this condition would have received a piece of standardised, hollow titanium tube as an implant, but the new technique involving 3D-printing technology offers them a much greater customisation and a speedier, more comfortable recovery.
“Using existing technology, the patient’s head needs to be framed with pins after surgery,” Zhongjun explained, adding that the patient’s head can’t touch the bed for at least three months following the surgical procedure. “But with 3D printing technology, we can simulate the shape of the vertebra, which is much stronger and more convenient than traditional methods.” Minghao is now in recovery, and while it’s still not comfortable for him to speak so soon after the surgery, the team at Peking University said he was in a good physical condition and is expected to make a strong recovery. Via 3D-printed vertebra used in world-first spine surgery