One of the wonders of writing about 3D printing is that when it comes to medical challenges, you begin to see things like so many medical professionals around the globe today do also: anything is possible. Whether doctors are removing a tumor (or growing one, bioprinting in the lab for study) or adding a 3D printed implant, this new technology is responsible for changing and saving people’s lives around the world—and of all ages, from small babies to seniors.
And while ‘it’s another first’ seems to be something we are getting quite used to saying around here, it’s appropriate again today as a young man has received a 3D printed heel bone in an unprecedented surgery just performed in South Korea. Made through 3D printing titanium with laser technology, doctors were able to implant a perfectly sculpted heel, exemplifying the miracle of what truly patient-specific care can achieve.
When the patient, a man serving in the military, having suffered the consequences of cancer and a tumor removal, came to Dr. Kang Hyun-Guy at the National Cancer Center, his options were to find an alternative to conventional techniques or they would have to amputate the foot due to fear of the tumors continuing to spread.
Certainly this patient, only in his 20’s, was very nervous about the prospect of losing his foot altogether. The doctors though, savvy with the 3D printer, were able to make him a heel bone in just two weeks. Due to their growing expertise with the technology, and the accuracy of the scans and the translated 3D file, the patient’s new heel bone fit perfectly.
“The heel bone is strong enough to support the patient’s weight, and it perfectly fits his anatomy,” said Dr. Hyun-Guy. “This is definitely lowering the probability of a complication developing down the line.”
And while this might be one of the first heel bones, it’s certainly not the first surgery of its kind to be performed in South Korea so far. To date, doctors have operated in more than 100 surgeries which involved 3D printed medical implants. This has included a recent patient leaving the hospital successfully with a 3D printed pelvic bone. We followed the amazing story of the brave teenage girl who had struggled with a common form of bone cancer, and one very prone to metastasizing. After repeated radiation and no luck with traditional procedures, it was decided that surgeons would remove her tumor but were hesitant about the next step.
A 3D printed pelvic implantation was decided on as the best alternative for her treatment—and again, the doctors made history, as it was the first surgery of its kind in Korea. Due to the efficiency of the surgery, the procedure was cut by half the time in the operating room—and the patient was up and walking in a week. In an update, we are very glad to hear the following:
“This is an X-ray that was taken of Ms. Kang last month,” said Dr. Shin Dong-ah, at Yonsei University College of Medicine. “You can see the ligaments have grown out and is perfectly attached to the implanted pelvic bone, meaning the surgery was a success.”
As the market expands within the 3D printing industry and the world of implants, specifically, there is certainly a lot to get excited about. Yet while doctors have obviously performed a great number of these surgeries already, cost remains a large concern. These are patients who also require a great deal of close monitoring since the procedures are still considered new territory. That adds both to the amount of nursing labor required afterward as well as the initial cost of the devices and procedures. Surely, the operations will become more streamlined and insurance companies will begin encouraging these types of procedures as we see one continued success after another. Do you know anyone who has received a 3D printed implant? Discuss further over in the 3D Printed Heel Bone forum over at 3DPB.com.