Cancer patient receives 3D printed ribs in world first surgery

A patient in Spain suffering from cancer in the chest has received a 3D printed sternum and rib implant.

The titanium implant was designed and manufactured by Melbourne-based medical device company Anatomics, Ministry for Industry and Science Ian Macfarlane. After being diagnosed with a chest wall sarcoma, the 54 year old man’s surgical team made the decision to remove his sternum and a portion of his rib cage and replace it with an implant.

Anatomics, who specialise in the manufacture of patient specific implants for surgeons around the world, utilised the CSIRO’s titanium printing facility – Lab 22 – at Clayton.

Minister Macfarlane has said the decision led to a collaboration that crossed disciplines and international boundaries to solve a significant problem for the patient. He comments: “This breakthrough is an impressive example of what can be achieved when industry and science come together.”

The surgical team, made up of Dr José Aranda, Dr Marcelo Jimene and Dr Gonzalo Varela from Salamanca University Hospital, knew the surgery would be difficult due to the complicated geometries involved in the chest cavity. Dr Aranda states: “We thought, maybe we could create a new type of implant that we could fully customise to replicate the intricate structures of the sternum and ribs. We wanted to provide a safer option for our patient, and improve their recovery post-surgery.”

That’s when the team turned to Anatomics. After assessing the complexity of the requirements, Anatomics CEO Andrew Batty said the solution lay in the complex design of the part. He explains: “Online planning sessions with our friends in Spain made the process very simple. We then wanted to 3D print the implant from titanium because of its complex geometry and design.

“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 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,” adds Mr Batty.

The operation was a success, with the patient in question discharged 12 days after the operation.

Photo credit: Anatomics.