3-D printing still has a long way to go before it's as mainstream as ink printers were in their heyday, but more and more it seems as though different industries are finding innovative ways to utilize the technology. Whether it's printing entire fashion collections, 3-D pictures that help blind people "see," or food, car parts, houses, and beyond, 3-D printers seem to have almost limitless potential.
Now, according to CSIRO, a titanium, 3-D-printed sternum and rib cage have been successfully used in a surgical procedure for a cancer patient.
Suffering from a chest wall sarcoma, a tumor that grows around the rib cage, the 54-year-old man needed his sternum and a portion of his rib cage replaced. As this part of the chest is very difficult to recreate with prosthetics, it was determined that the best course of action was to develop a fully customized, 3D-printed rib cage.
The procedure was the first of its kind, making the process of building it all the more impressive.
Using high resolution CT data, Melbourne-based medical device company Anatomics was able to create a 3-D reconstruction of the man's chest wall and tumor, allowing his surgeons to plan out precise resection margins that could connect seamlessly to the rest of the rib cage. Then, using a $1.3 million Arcam printer, the implant was printed layer by layer and transferred to the hospital for a lengthy procedure.
Just 12 days later, the patient was discharged from the hospital. His surgery was a success.
Sure to be a case study for the benefits of 3-D printing in medicine, this surgery is a major landmark on many fronts. If you're waiting for lifesaving surgery one day, the method could well save your life.
Cover image: Creative Tools via Flickr