Twelve-year-old Minghao, a Chinese boy has become the first person to receive a 3D-printed vertebra implant.
Minghao was not in too much pain when he headed a soccer ball during a match with his friends. But the next morning he woke up with a stiff and aching neck. A month after the incident, the boy's body went numb. On performing a biopsy, spinal experts diagnosed him with a malignant tumor on the second vertebra of his neck.
In the following months doctors at China's Peking University Third Hospital, commenced what would be the world's first 3D-printed vertebra surgery.
The surgery was performed by Dr. Liu Zhongjun. Speaking to Central China Television about the operation, Liu, said,"With 3D printing technology, we can simulate the shape of the vertebra, which is much stronger and more convenient than traditional methods."
Like many orthopedic implants, the bone substitute is made from titanium powder , but promises to be both safer and longer-lasting than conventional replacements. The design mimics the shape of the child's original vertebra, which doesn't need cement or screws to stay in place and the healing process should be faster. The construct of the implant is made of small holes that allow the natural bone to grow inside, so it should eventually become a permanent, stable part of the spine that will not need adjustments in the future.
The incredibly delicate surgery which took the doctors five hours involved the spinal chord, the internal and external carotid arteries and the trachea.
A huge advantage of 3D-printing is the ability to customize medical implants, allowing for a perfect fit with the patient's anatomy. Some recent examples include 3D-printed spine cages, skull and jaw implants, along with customized mouthpieces for sleep apnea sufferers.
While Minghao is unable to speak and uses a writing board to communicate, he is said to be in good physical condition and recovering as expected. If everything goes smoothly, this procedure will be proof that 3D-printed bones can be anywhere in the body may save lives.