Is there anything 3D printers can't do? A 54-year-old Spanish man, who had a cancerous tumor in his chest wall, was recently fitted with a 3D printed sternum and rib cage. While the first-of-its-kind implant seems like a Marvel Comics experiment with Adamantium, in reality, it was an ingenious, life saving medical solution that used lightweight yet sturdy, Titanium. The metal printing technique gave the surgeons at the Salamanca University Hospital in Spain the flexibility they needed to customize the complex and unique anatomy of their patient's chest wall.
They brought in Anatomics, a Melbourne-based company that manufactures surgical products, to help create and print the implant. Based on the patient's high-resolution CT scan data, the Australian team first created a 3D reconstruction of the patient's chest wall and tumor so that the surgeons could plan with precision. Next, they used the 3D digital CAD file detailing the patient's anatomy to build the customized implant, layer by layer, on Arcam's $1.3 million electron beam metal printer.
This isn't the first time a 3D printer was brought in to create a titanium body part, but a prosthetic for the chest wall has never been printed and deployed before. "This part of the chest is notoriously tricky to recreate with prosthetics, due to the complex geometry and design required for each patient," says CSIRO, a government scientific research agency in Australia that offered its lab for the printing. The printed metal implant, which can go over the bones on one side and be screwed on securely on the other side, was shipped to Spain soon after it was ready. Now, about 12 days after the surgery, the patient with the titanium rib cage is reportedly on his way to recovery.