By: 28 October 2015
Cancer patient receives 3D printed ribs in world first surgery

Cancer patient receives 3D printed ribs in world first surgery

In a world-first surgery, a Spanish cancer patient has received a 3D printed titanium sternum and rib implant that was designed and manufactured in Melbourne.

Suffering from a chest wall sarcoma, 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. So the patient’s surgical team from Salamanca University Hospital determined that a fully customised 3D printed sternum and rib cage was the best option. Melbourne-based medical device company Anatomics designed and manufactured the implant.

The surgical team, José Aranda, Marcelo Jimene and Gonzalo Varela from Salamanca University Hospital, knew the surgery would be difficult due to the complicated geometries involved in the chest cavity. “We thought we could create a new type of implant that we could fully customise to replicate the intricate structures of the sternum and ribs,” Dr Aranda said.

After assessing the complexity of the requirements, Anatomics CEO Andrew Batty said the solution lay in metallic 3D printing. “We wanted to 3D print the implant from titanium because of its complex geometry and design,” Batty said. “While titanium implants have previously been used in chest surgery, designs have not considered the issues surrounding long-term fixation.

“Flat and plate implants rely on screws for rigid fixation that may come loose over time. This can increase the risk of complications and the possibility of reoperation.”

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.

“From this, we were able to design an implant with a rigid sternal core and semi-flexible titanium rods to act as prosthetic ribs attached to the sternum,” Batty said. The team then manufactured the implant out of surgical grade titanium alloy.

Once the prosthesis was complete it was couriered to Spain and implanted into the patient. Twelve days after the surgery the patient was discharged and has recovered well.

“The operation was very successful,” Aranda said. “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.”