A 54-year-old man from Spain was diagnosed with a chest wall sarcoma, a type of cancer where a tumor grows in or on the rib cage. He had no choice but to have a portion of his ribcage removed, including his sternum. In a world-first, the man has had the missing pieces successfully replaced with a 3D-printed prosthetic.
The man’s doctors could have gone a traditional route to create a prosthetic rib cage for him. But traditional implants were risky because they could become loose as time passed, making it likely that the man would suffer complications and need additional operations. That’s why 3D printing became the most promising option. A 3D printed implant would be the most precise replica of the size and shape of the man’s ribcage.
The surgeons at the Salamanca University Hospital in Spain decided to contact CSIRO, a medical device company in Australia. They provided them with a computer tomography scan of the man’s chest so they could create an implant that most accurately matched the missing parts of his ribcage.
In an interview with ABC, the Alex Kingsbury, Manufacturing Research Leader at CSIRO, said, “3D-printing was the most desirable method because the implant needed to be customized to the patient. No human body is the same.”
"We thought, maybe we could create a new type of implant that we could fully customize to replicate the intricate structures of the sternum and ribs," Dr. Jose Aranda, a surgeon on the team, said in a press release. "We wanted to provide a safer option for our patient, and improve their recovery post-surgery.”
The designers at CSIRO successfully created pieces to replace both his sternum and part of his ribs. After surgery, the man spent only 12 days in the hospital before feeling fit to go home.
"The operation was very successful. Thanks to 3D printing technology and a unique resection template, we were able to create a body part that was fully customised and fitted like a glove," Dr. Aranda added.
The titanium ribcage is just another addition to the growing list of 3D printed prosthetics and implants being developed around the world, including knee, skull and jaw parts, vertebra and skin grafts.
While CSIRO designed the rib cage in Australia, fed the design into a 3D printer, and sent the finished product to Spain, there’s hope that hospitals of the future will be equipped enough to do at least part of these tasks on their own.
According to Dr. Mia Woodruff of QUT’s Institute of Health and Biomedical Innovation and Leader of the Biomaterals and Tissue Morpohography Group, “Our hospital of the future, from our point of view, is going to have the patient go into hospital, you scan them and immediately next to that operating table you can print them that scaffold.”