3D Printed Rib Cage Made From Titanium Implanted In Cancer Patient’s Chest

A 54-year-old man in Spain has had a 3D printed replica of his sternum and rib cage made from titanium, fitted inside his chest, reports Quartz. The pioneering surgery was announced by Australia’s Industry and Science Minister Ian Macfarlane on Friday.

A prosthetic for the chest wall has never been used before, and the 3D printed implant is the first of its kind to be surgically deployed in a human body.

The patient was suffering from chest wall sarcoma, cancerous tumors that form in the chest cavity and grow around the chest wall. To remove the tumors, surgeons needed also to remove a section of the man’s ribs and sternum.

The life-saving procedure was performed at Salamanca University Hospital in Spain, but the 3D printing of the implant was contracted out to Anatomics, a Melbourne-based company in Australia which manufactures surgical products.

High-Resolution CAT scans were used to create a 3D reconstruction of the patient’s chest wall and tumor so that surgeons could precisely plan their surgery.

The 3D digital CAD files mapping the unique and intricate anatomical structures of the patient’s chest wall were sent to the Australian government’s specialized 3D-printing laboratory at the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization (CSIRO).

A customized implant was then built, layer by layer, with an electron beam metal printer. The metal printing technique works by using an electron beam to melt metal powder into layers.

Adam Knight of CSIRO wrote on the organization’s blog, “this part of the chest is notoriously tricky to recreate with prosthetics, due to the complex geometry and design required for each patient.”

“This isn’t the first time surgeons have turned the human body into a titanium masterpiece. Thoracic surgeons typically use flat and plate implants for the chest. However, these can come loose over time and increase the risk of complications. The patient’s surgical team at the Salamanca University Hospital thought a fully customized 3D printed implant could replicate the intricate structures of the sternum and ribs, providing a safer option for the patient.

The biomedical applications of 3D printing are becoming increasingly common. 3D printing has been used to print a heel bone, a mouth guard for sleep apnea, and in the U.S., doctors are increasingly using 3D printing to produce models for planning surgeries, reducing the need for invasive biopsies. Scientists are also working on 3D-printed tissue implants, but such techniques haven’t been approved for human use yet.

It is now 12 days since the groundbreaking surgery. The patient has been discharged and is reported to be recovering well.

[Image credit: CSIRO]