First spine surgery with 3D-printed disc — Will this change everything?

Written by  Laura Dyrda 

Surgeons in China performed the first spinal disc replacement implanting a three-dimensional printed vertebra, according to a CNTV report.

 The 3D printing technology uses digital models of a patient’s anatomy to construct a “printed” customized implant in almost any material. While the overall 3D printing technology isn’t new, applying it to the orthopedic device space is cutting-edge and advances could make it more available to the general public. This could be disruptive in the traditional orthopedic and spine device markets, and become a game-changers in the clinical quality and cost-effective aspects of care.

Customization is a top priority in orthopedics; companies like ConforMIS built their entire technology platform on manufacturing implants based on three-dimensional images while other companies are increasing the number of sizes available in particular products. When implants fit patients better, they are able to recover more quickly and are less likely to experience complications or revision procedures. This saves significant time and money, and the patients are happier.

The 3D printing market for healthcare will generate more than $4 billion by 2018, according to a Visiongain analysisreported in Information Week. The 3D-printed medical models could also reduce surgical time, which is significant when average surgery costs $100 per minute.

This first spinal procedure using a 3D-printed vertebra replaced the second vertebra in a 12-year-old boy’s neck. The boy had cancer, which was discovered after a traumatic soccer injury. After the procedure, the patient’s head was framed with pins and will remain that way for three months. The surgeon who performed the procedure — Dr. Liu Zhongjun — said the customized 3D printing technology made the disc replacement stronger and more convenient than other procedures.


Josh Sandberg

Josh Sandberg is the President and CEO of Ortho Spine Partners and sits on several company and industry related Boards. He also is the Creator and Editor of OrthoSpineNews.

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