An Indian woman facing a future of quadriplegia and even death because of an unusual spinal condition has been restored to health after having innovative surgery that involved 3D-printed vertebrae.
It may sound like futuristic science fiction, but it’s happening right now!
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Amazing advances in 3D printing
The Indo-Asian News Service reports a 32-year-old teacher is up and walking less than two weeks after doctors installed a 3D-printed titanium implant between her skull and spine.
The woman suffered from a rare manifestation of tuberculosis in her spine, which was exacerbated by a compromised immune system brought on by treatment with infertility drugs.
Things got to the point that the woman’s first, second and third cervical vertebrae were badly deteriorating. With no support between her skull and lower spine, British newspaper The Guardian reports the woman’s posture began curving and progressive weakness in her limbs was leading to paralysis.
But now, she’s up and walking again after a 10-hour procedure to correct the condition.
“Given the complexity of this case, the use of 3D printing technology has helped us in bringing a successful outcome,” lead surgeon Dr. Anand Naik told the Indo-Asian News Service. “The patient today on 12 post-operative days is now walking with minimal support, all her pain has gone…and, most importantly, her life was saved by this technique.”
We’ve already heard about doctors making highly customized artificial limbs with the help of 3D printers. Those kinds of prosthetics can be up to 90% cheaper than traditional ones.
But the surgery in India helps set a new bar. It’s one of the most unique procedures ever performed, according to The Guardian.
The only other precedents are operations that took place in China beginning in 2014 and a single surgery performed in Australia in 2016.
Not familiar with 3D printing?
If you’ve never heard of 3D printing, it’s not printing in the traditional sense.
Rather, it’s a technology whereby a machine can fabricate new items — essentially “printing” them up — by layering thin slices of plastic, metal or other materials on top of each other into a finished composite.
It’s often been said that the end goal of 3D printing in the medical world is to be able to fabricate whatever organs may be needed in transplant surgery.
To that end, an Australian technology firm teamed up with orthopedic surgeons at St. Vincent’s Hospital in Melbourne to develop a 3D printing pen that creates customized cartilage implants during surgery, IB Times reported.
The pen uses a gel bio-ink to carry and help human stem cells survive and build layers of tissue for implants.