Surgical Breakthrough- New Pelvis Created With 3D Printer

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A 60 year old, unnamed patient who had lost half of his pelvis to bone cancer now has a replacement pelvis and is walking again thanks to breakthrough surgery. The patient suffered from chondrosarcoma, a rare cancer that affected almost the entire right side of his pelvis. Following the surgery, which involved the affected right side of the pelvis, the patient is now able to walk with the aid of a walking stick. This first of its kind surgery was carried out by Craig Gerrand, consultant orthopaedic surgeon at Newcastle upon Tyne Hospitals NHS Trust.

A consultation with Dr Sompan Chondrosarcoma is a type of cancer that does not respond either to chemotherapy or drugs and the only option in this case was to remove half of the pelvis. According to the surgeon, the segment that had to be removed was so large that it was not possible to have it replaced with a conventional hand-made implant. Moreover, there was the possibility of the 3D print not fitting the way it should and there was also the risk of a fracture. However, the patient was made aware about these risks involved before going ahead with the surgery.

The general belief is that 3D printing has the potential to bring about a revolution in healthcare. There are numerous medical applications in which this procedure can be used. The technology is still in its nascent phase and scientists and surgeons are in collaboration about various innovations that involve using organic inks as well as extremely tough thermoplastics to assemble biological matter. They are researching and developing reconstructions of the skull and also printing the scaffolding on which stem-cells can grow and form new bones. It is believed that in the future, 3D printing might also be able to form complete new organs that can be transplanted into patients who need them. 

The Procedure

In the case of the pelvis operation, scans were used by the surgical teams, to measure the bone that would have to be removed. The replacement part was then created on the 3D printer. These measurements and prints were sent off to Stanmore Implants, the company that created this bespoke implant. Layers of titanium were fused with the use of a laser. This was then coated with a mineral and the remaining bone cells would then grow into it. Once this pelvis had been positioned in the patient, a regular hip replacement surgery was carried out.

Mr Gerrand said that without this kind of a reconstruction, one of the legs of the patient would have been left hanging and would have no attachment at the spine. Apart from this, it would also be shorter than the other one. During the course of the 12 hour surgery, surgical navigation technology was used by the team. The images of the patient’s pelvis were uploaded onto a PC and a model was created on the screen. With the use of this technology, the bone could be cut very accurately. 3 years post the surgery, the patient can still walk around independently with the help of a stick.

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