First-ever 3D-printed vertebra implanted in 12-year-old cancer patient’s spine

August 28, 2014


A 12-year-old cancer patient in China underwent a first-of-its-kind operation to implant a 3D-printed vertebra into his spine, Reuters reported.

During the 5-hour procedure, surgeons at Peking University Hospital in Beijing removed a tumor from Qin Minglin’s spine before implanting the 3D-printed vertebra. The novel device was made from titanium powder and included a series of tiny pores which will allow the bone to grow and bond to the structure as it heals.

Currently, the standard procedure for this kind of operation involves removing the bone and inserting a titanium tube held in place by screws and surgical cement. However, the tube can become detached over time. For this novel procedure, doctors used a combination of scans and specialized engineering software to create a perfect replica of the piece of the patient’s spine that needed to be replaced.

“…We can use iconographic tests on patients such as a computed [tomography], or CT scans, and convert the CT data into 3D-printing data in order to produce an internal fixation with exactly the same structure as the patient’s bone structure,” Dr. Liu Zhongjun, director of orthopedics at Peking University Hospital told Reuters. “When it is implanted into a human being, it perfectly matches the patient’s own anatomical structure.”

Zhongjun added that using the specially made implant would mean a faster recovery for Qin and increased mobility after he heals.

“Using existing technology, the patient’s head needs to be framed with pins after surgery,” he explained. “But with 3D-printing technology, we can simulate the shape of the vertebra, which is much stronger and more convenient than traditional methods.”

Qin was diagnosed with Ewing’s sarcoma after he suffered a neck injury while heading a ball in sports practice. Ewing’s sarcoma is a cancerous tumor that grows in the bones or in the tissue around bones (soft tissue)—often the legs, pelvis, ribs, arms or spine, according to St. Jude’s Children’s Research Hospital. The condition affects about 200 children and young adults a year in the United States, and when found early, can be treated successfully in up to 75 percent of cases, according to the National Cancer Institute.

“When I was told that he would be the first case of this kind, I was a little torn,” Qin’s mother, Xu Minglin told Reuters. “But in the end, I considered that 3D technology has already been applied in the medical world, and they must be confident.”

One month after surgery, Qin’s doctors say he’s on the road to recovery and his mother said he’s in good spirits knowing that his procedure may help provide new treatment options for spinal replacement surgery patients.



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