Jun 15, 2016 | By Alec
The Peking University Third Hospital in Beijing, China is building up a reputation for groundbreaking medical procedures involving 3D printed implants. Two years ago, they became the first hospital in the world to implant a 3D printed vertebrae, and they have now completed an even more remarkable feat. Just a few days ago, the hospital’s surgeons removed five sections of a patient’s spine – all affected by malignant spinal tumors – and replaced them with 3D printed implants, becoming the first hospital in the world to replace such a large segment of the spine.
This feat is especially remarkable because the patient in question, Mr. Yuan, was faced with an impossible situation. Suffering from chordoma, Mr. Yuan’s spine was in such a terrible state that up to 19 centimeters had to be removed completely – including thoracic sections 10, 11, and 12 and lumbar sections 1 and 2. While removal provided the only chance of saving his life, very few doctors in the world would even dare to remove such a large portion of the spine. Problematically, there are no ready-made solutions to replace that such a large section. With no precedent existing for the large titanium mesh that would be necessary, the doctors settled on a remarkable 3D printing solution.
During the surgery, which took place in the early hours of June 12th at Peking University Third Hospital’s orthopedic ward, surgeons implanted multiple 3D printed thoracolumbar implants over the 19 cm long section of the spine. These completely replaced the five resected vertebrae, an exciting medical first.
As surgeon and Professor Liu Zhongjun revealed, the surgery itself is very rare. Despite having obtained CFDA certificates for 3D printing artificial vertebrae and studying them for surgical purposes, they were unsure what to do in a situation where five vertebrae were resected. How can the implants be supported, and how can the important spinal cord, nerves and blood vessels in the spinal canal be kept intact when after removing such a large section, the spinal structure effectively ceases to exist and needs to be rebuilt. It was an unprecedented challenge.