3D printing has been frequently highlighted by the media as one of the most promising new innovations for modern medicine. With this technology doctors are able to literally "print" new parts for the human body.
Craig Gerrand, a consultant orthopaedic surgeon in the UK used 3D printing technology to create a pelvis for a 60-year-old patient who had to have half his pelvis removed to stop the spread of bone cancer.
"The cancer affected virtually the whole right side of the pelvis [the ring of bones that connect the base of the spine to the thigh]," says Mr Gerrand. "Since this cancer does not respond to drugs or radiotherapy, the only option to stop it spreading was to remove half of the pelvis."
Because of the amount of bone that had been removed, traditional implants would lack enough bone to properly reattach. The Ottawa Citizen
reports that the 12-hour operation was carried out using surgical navigation technology, in which images of the pelvis are uploaded onto a computer to create a model on the screen, after which a titanium pelvis was inserted. It was covered by a mineral into which the remaining bone cells could grow. This procedure was followed by a standard hip replacement, which fitted seamlessly into the titanium socket. Just over three years later, Mr Gerrand’s patient is able to walk, albeit with a stick — and is still very happy with his 3D-printed half-pelvis.
Innovation is desperately needed in the development of new treatments for bone cancer, an area where there have been no improvements in survival — currently about 60 percent — for 30 years.
"It’s fantastic that you can do cool surgery," Mr Gerrand says, "but the real innovation will be when we don’t have to do this at all, because we have developed new treatments that can stop the cancer in its tracks."