Doctors from the Peking University Third Hospital in China have performed the world’s first implant of a 3D-printed human vertebra. After 12-year-old Minghao sustained a soccer injury, subsequent tests revealed a malignant tumor in his neck region that required extensive surgery, including removing his second cervical vertebra. Doctors from the orthopedics unit at the hospital 3D printed a new vertebra for the boy using titanium powder.

While replacement titanium implants have already been in use for a while, the 3D-printed version creates a replica of the patient’s existing bone. According to lead surgeon for the procedure Dr. Liu Zhongjun, this is much stronger than previous implants, makes surgery easier and recovery progresses well. The hospital has been experimenting with 3D printing technology since 2009, with its first human clinical trials commencing in late 2012.

Related: 3D Printed Bones Are Saving a UK Hospital Thousands in Fees

To date the hospital’s orthopedic surgeons have performed implant surgery on over 50 patients. However, “This is the first use of a 3D-printed vertebra as an implant for orthopedic spine surgery in the world,” said Dr. Lui. The operation took five hours, although it included surgery to the spinal cord, the internal and external carotid arteries and the trachea. Recovery is expected to take a few months, but Minghao is progressing well.

3D-printed bone implants provide a better, custom fit than conventional titanium implants, which tend to come in geometric shapes due to the limitations of fabrication and therefore require fixatives such as chemical bonding, screws or plates. The 3D-printed bone replacements have also shown potential for surrounding bones to grow into them, further securing the implant, and often have tiny pores or pits in the surface to facilitate this.

+ Peking University

Via Tech Times

Lead image by Anatomography via Wikimedia Commons; screengrab from CCTV News via YouTube