Ravaged by a tumor, a 37-year-old patient in Thailand had her right metacarpal thumb bone removed. Put in its place, is a titanium prosthesis created using a mirrored 3D scan and 3D printed cast of her existing left bone. The process was carried out by researchers, scientists, and doctors at Thailand’s prestigious Chula University (Chulalongkorn University) and Phramongkutklao Hospital.
3Ders.org would report:
The procedure is a first in the medical world, though it is sure not to be the last 3D printed titanium metacarpal implant. As Boonrat Lohwongwatana, a member of the engineering team that created the implant says, “This technique can also be used to replace damaged bones from other parts of the body and it only takes a couple of weeks to make one of these bones.”
For the last several years, this team of researchers at Chula University have been developing this technique, using scans taken from patients to then 3D print a mold for casting a replacement part in titanium. The 3D printer used was the ExtraBot, also made in Thailand and derived from the opensource Ultimaker 3D printer. The printer uses both ABS and PLA plastic and is fitted with the E3D Volcano extruder. In other words, it is an affordable, relatively mainstream piece of technology used as part of a revolutionary medical advancement.
Chula researchers hope this process can eventually be done within 24 hours and as noninvasive for patients as possible.
Thailand is not the only country using 3D printing to create implants. Last year it was reported that an Australian cancer patient received a 3D printed titanium rib cage also using scans from the patient to create the final implant. This implant, however, was not cast in a 3D printed mold, but rather printed using titanium itself as an input material.
It is interesting to see how 3D printing is being used in a variety of ways to help real patients. Thailand’s technique is based on the need to use simple, cheap tools to create groundbreaking results. Australia’s breakthrough proves what technology in the future may be able to do when prices for metal 3D printing finally come within reach of more hospitals and institutions around the globe.
What is certain, however, is that all of these examples prove the utility of 3D printing is no longer theoretical. It is helping real people around the world today.