A twelve-year-old Beijing boy may get a second chance at living a normal life after doctors at Peking University Third Hospital implanted the world’s first 3D-printed vertebra into his neck.
The need for extensive surgery was prompted after a soccer injury revealed a malignant tumor in the boy, Minghao. Doctors determined that his second cervical vertebra would need to be removed to keep the cancer from spreading.
Rather than use pre-fabricated implants, the doctors turned to 3D printing technology to create an exact replica of the patient’s existing vertebra. Made from titanium powder, the 3D-printed replacement is just as strong as pre-fabricated substitutes. The custom fit also makes the vertebra easier to implant, but unlike conventional implants, screws and plates are not needed to keep it in place.
“This is the first use of a 3D-printed vertebra as an implant for orthopedic spine surgery in the world,” said Dr. Lui Zhongjun, who led research on the use of 3D-printed implants at Peking University’s Orthopedics Department in 2010.
In addition to vertebra replacement, doctors also operated on the boy’s spinal cord, the internal and external carotid arteries, and the trachea during the five-hour surgery. Doctors say that while recovery may take months, Minghao is in good physical condition and is expected to recover soon.
By Lucy Wang