Surgeons in Spain were able to successfully transplant a set of custom-designed titanium ribs for a cancer patient who had lost his ribs from a chest wall sarcoma. The surgeons collaborated with two companies in Australia, the research organization CSIRO and the medical engineering company Anatomics. Together they designed the rib and sternum piece that the patient desperately needed.
Chest wall sarcomas are a form of tumour that grows around the rib cage, often making them difficult to remove without having to remove some of the ribs themselves. Titanium flat and plate implants would typically be used in cases like these, but surgeons (and patients for that matter) have found over time that screws can come loose and stiffness can kick in. The chances of experiencing these issues are lowered considerably with the use of 3D printed implants, as they can be fully customized to fit the patient’s body before being made, rather than the surgeons simply adapting default pieces and hoping they fit comfortably.
“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,” said Dr. Jose Aranda, a surgeon at Salamanca University Hospital in Spain, in a press release. “We wanted to provide a safer option for our patient, and improve their recovery post-surgery.”
The team used high resolution CT scans of the 54 year old man’s chest wall and tumour, giving them detailed guidelines for the implant. The model was then put into a electron beam printer, a mechanism that melts powdered titanium and slowly creates the design layer by layer with medical-grade metal.
With previous experience printing things like custom heel bones and mouth guards for patients in similar situations, CSIRO maintains that 3D printing gives medical workers virtually unlimited possibilities for specially-designed implants, something that is simply unmet by implants built by human hands.
“The advantage of 3D printing is its rapid prototyping,” said Adam Knight in a post on CSIRO’s website. “When you’re waiting for life-saving surgery this is the definitely the order of the day.”