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Cancer Patient Receives 3D-Printed Ribs

A 3D-printed titanium sternum and rib cage has been implanted into a 54-year-old Spanish man diagnosed with a chest wall sarcoma. The implant was designed by Melbourne-based medical device company Anatomics and manufactured at CSIRO’s 3D printing facility, Lab 22.

“We wanted to 3D-print the implant from titanium because of its complex geometry and design,” said Anatomics CEO Andrew Batty. “While titanium implants have previously been used in chest surgery, designs have not considered the issues surrounding long-term fixation.

“Flat and plate implants rely on screws for rigid fixation that may come loose over time. This can increase the risk of complications and the possibility of reoperation.”

Through high resolution CT data, the Anatomics team was able to create a 3D reconstruction of the chest wall and tumour, allowing the surgeons to plan and accurately define resection margins.

“From this, we were able to design an implant with a rigid sternal core and semi-flexible titanium rods to act as prosthetic ribs attached to the sternum,” Batty said.

Working with Lab 22, the team then manufactured the implant out of surgical-grade titanium alloy.

“We built the implant using our $1.3 million Arcam printer,” said Alex Kingsbury from CSIRO’s manufacturing team. “The printer works by directing an electron beam at a bed of titanium powder in order to melt it. This process is then repeated, building the product up layer-by-layer until you have a complete implant.

“3D printing has significant advantages over traditional manufacturing methods, particularly for biomedical applications. As well as being customisable, it also allows for rapid prototyping – which can make a big difference if a patient is waiting for surgery.”

Once the prosthesis was complete it was couriered to Spain and implanted into the patient. “The operation was very successful,” said surgeon Dr José Aranda. “Thanks to 3D printing technology and a unique resection template, we were able to create a body part that was fully customised and fitted like a glove.”