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Cancer patient receives 3D printed ribs in world first surgery

In a world-first surgery of its kind, a Spanish cancer patient has successfully received a 3D printed titanium sternum and rib implant and has recovered well.

Suffering from a chest wall sarcoma (a type of tumour that grows in and around the rib cage), the 54-year-old man needed his sternum and a portion of his rib cage replaced.

This part of the chest is notoriously tricky to recreate with prosthetics, due to the complex geometry and intricate structures involved, researchers said.

So the patient’s surgical team from Salamanca University Hospital in Spaindetermined that a fully customisable 3D printed sternum and rib cage was the best option. “We thought, maybe we could create a new type of implant that we could fully customise to replicate the intricate structures of the sternum and ribs,” said Dr Jose Aranda, who was a part of the surgical team. Adding,  “We wanted to provide a safer option for our patient, and improve their recovery post-surgery.”

That’s when they turned to Melbourne-based medical device company Anatomics, who designed and manufactured the implant utilising Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO)’s 3D printing facility, Lab 22.

Through high resolution CT data, the Anatomics team was able to create a 3D reconstruction of the chest wall and tumour, allowing the surgeons to plan and accurately define resection margins. The team then manufactured the implant out of surgical grade titanium alloy.

“We built the implant using our USD 1.3 million Arcam printer,” Alex Kingsbury from CSIRO’s manufacturing team said. “The printer works by directing an electron beam at a bed of titanium powder in order to melt it. This process is then repeated, building the product up layer-by-layer until you have a complete implant,” said Kingsbury.

Once the prosthesis was complete it was couriered to Spain and implanted into the patient. “The operation was very successful. Thanks to 3D printing technology and a unique resection template, we were able to create a body part that was fully customised and fitted like a glove,” Aranda said.

12 days after the surgery the patient was discharged and has recovered well.


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