The Third Military Medical University of Southwest Hospital in China announced that its orthopedic sports medicine center has completed the country’s first fully 3D printed custom talus implant surgery. The 3D printed implant connects the lower limb to the foot and has the biological function of helping patients to walk again.

Three years ago, 27-year-old electrical engineer Mr. Fang fell down the stairs and sprained his ankle. To treat the sprain, he initially underwent a traditional fracture surgery to reset the bone. Once the bone had reset, however, Mr. Fang began to suffer from talar necrosis, a condition where the talus bone is deprived from blood and oxygen and starts to die. The condition also prevented the patient from walking. Fortunately, Mr. Fang was brought to the Southwest Hospital seeking treatment and became the first ever patient to receive a biologically functional 3D printed talar implant. The talar joint implant, which uses high-tech materials and technology, not only has a support function, but can also allow for the patient to regain normal mobility.

Currently, treatments for talar necrosis are very limited, and are often implemented at the cost of the ankle joint function. For instance, if the talus bone has already collapsed, the only method for treatment is to make the four ankle bones a dead joint, which, as one can imagine, seriously affects the patient’s quality of life.

To develop the custom 3D printed talus implant, a team from the Third Military Medical University of The Southwest Hospital, led by Professor Tang Kanglai, collaborated with ten research institutes that specialize in biologically functioning talar prosthetics. After many tests and much preparation, the custom prosthesis was made, and was implanted in the patient on July 4th. The entire surgical process took about 90 minutes to complete.

Professor Tang Kanglai explains what a difference the custom 3D printed talus prosthetic made for the surgical process. Typically, he says, the prosthetics would be made using several fixed models, meaning that during the operation, the patient’s bones could have to be cut for the prosthetic to fit. Now, with the custom made implant based off of the patient’s own anatomy and biological data, the joint prosthesis can be made to perfectly fit into the patient’s body. Additionally, while most conventional prosthetics simply play a supportive role and are limited in their functions, the custom 3D printed implant has been designed for a number of functions, including load-bearing.

The 3D printed custom talus implant was made from a titanium alloy and has been coated with a special material to ensure hardness and smoothness (to lessen wear and tear for its connecting bones). To make the implant as biologically sound as possible, with varying hardness and flexibility, each part of the 3D printed joint was designed differently according to biomechanics. For instance, part of the joint implant has a rougher surface with a number of micro holes, which will help to encourage biological bone growth, and could allow for the reconstruction of ligaments, tendons, etc. According to the doctors, this is still in clinical trials and the official application for it takes about four and a half years.

Mr Fang’s treatment, starting from the collection of anatomical data and biomechanical data, to the design, 3D printing and disinfection of the implant, to the implantation itself, took a total of 72 hours. Professor Tang said that it will likely take four and a half years of clinical trials and further research before the technology can be adopted on a mass scale. In the future, if this technology and method can be promoted, it could have applications for a number of other surgeries including pelvis, spine, and femoral head necrosis surgery. He said the next step will be a shoulder surgery case, for which he has done related preparations.

Currently, Mr. Fang has been transferred to a general ward, and after another 6 weeks to 3 months he is expected to regain normal mobility. Mr. Fang said that when he had agreed to surgery at first he was only 60 percent confident, after all, the surgery has never been done before, and now he hopes this technology can be popularized to serve more patients.



Posted in 3D Printing Application



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