The wonders of the 3-D printer are just beginning to populate the common consciousness and for one 12-year-old boy, the fantastical invention is changing his life.
Minghao of China learned about two months ago that he had Ewing’s sarcoma, a type of bone cancer usually discovered in children. There was a tumor lodged on the second vertebra of his spine. The usual treatment for this is bine replacement using a titanium tube. Minghao’s doctors decided to try something different.
Using the research and technology developed by the 3-D printer, the doctors at Beijing’s Peking University Third Hospital fabricated an exact replica of Minghao’s vertebra. When it is implanted surgically, they will be able to forego the usual surgical screws or cement. This will allow the boy to recover more quickly. Better still is the fact that the procedure will leave him with a greater range of motion in his neck that the previously used type of procedure would have. This is accomplished because the piece of replacement bone is made from titanium powder and has tiny pores throughout its design that will allow the child’s future bone growth to bond with it.
Minghao underwent the 5-hour procedure in August. It makes him the first recipient of a vertebra created by a 3-D printer.
Others have been helped by the ever-expanding technology surrounding 3-D printers. An Ohio baby’s life was saved in 2013 when it received an airway printed on the device. The implant corrected a birth defect that caused the infant’s airway to collapse several times, cutting off his supply of oxygen and on occasion, stopping his heart.
Minghao is expected to make a full and speedy recovery, thanks to the new vertebra and the out-of-the-box thinking by his doctors.