A hospital in China has completed an innovative operation to remove six vertebrae from a patient’s spine and replace them with 3D-printed titanium prosthetics.
Chinese newspaper group People's Daily Online reports that the 28-year-old woman, known only under the alias Xiao Wen, was diagnosed with chondrosarcoma in May 2017. This is a rare form of a cancerous tumor that attacks cartilage, the tough “rubbery” connective tissue found between many of the human body's bones.
Typically, these tumors are found in the pelvis or thigh. However, this woman’s tumor affected six of her seven cervical vertebrae, the disc-like bones that make up the neck. Gradually her conditioned worsened and she was unable to make basic motions with her arms.
A renowned spinal surgeon Xiao Jianru at Shanghai Changzheng Hospital decided to take action and made the ground-breaking decision to remove her affected vertebrae and replace them with artificial ones. The doctors said that treating her cancer with conventional methods, such as chemotherapy or radiotherapy, would prove ineffective with this type of cancer and leave the young woman at risk of a relapse. Given the debilitating nature of her illness, they decided to act hard and fast.
Jianru and his colleagues at the Second Military Medical University of Changzheng Hospital spent three weeks building the artificial bones using titanium alloy and customized 3D-printed technology. To help fashion the new prosthetic parts, they constructed a life-size model of the woman's upper spine using a 3D-printer.
The 13-hour operation finally went ahead in July this year. "Xiao Wen is slowly recovering," according to a recent report by the People's Daily Online. Thanks to the surgery, she is now able to stand and walk, although she is still unable to turn her head normally.
This is not the first time the team has used 3D-printing technology for surgical procedures. In 2016, they used 3D-printed parts to replace a patient’s cervical vertebrae and thoracic vertebra. Just this month, a team of surgeons in India also used a 3D-printed vertebra. Nevertheless, this recent operation is thought to be the most expansive use of the technology involving the spine yet.