3D Printed Spine Replacement Saves Woman's Life

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A woman who had a portion of her spine replaced by titanium demonstrate how 3D printing can save lives.

The surgery took 10 hours, but doctors were able to successfully replace the 32-year-old woman's first, second and third vertebrae with a printed implant, reports The Guardian. After recovering from one of the first procedures of its kind, she was able to stand and walk, something that was a struggle for her before the surgery.

The woman's incredible and unlikely story started with a tuberculosis diagnosis -- the fertility medication that she said she had been taking compromised her immune system, and she contracted the disease that skipped her lungs and went right to her spine.

The tuberculosis did so much damage that she quickly became unable to hold up her own head, which was sliding forward as her back curved further and further.

Left untreated, she could easily have died, since her bending spine could have compressed her respiratory nerves. At best, she might have ended up in a wheelchair.

Medical experts in Gurgaon, India, partnered with a 3D printing company and used CT and MRI scans to build a near-perfect replica of the woman's spine, including the deteriorated vertebrae that were causing the gap between her skull and lower spine. 

"Given the complexity of this case, the use of 3D printing technology has helped us in bringing a successful outcome," the surgery's leading senior consultant, Dr. V Anand Naik of Medanta's Bone and Joint Institute, told the Indo-Asian News Service, reports The Guardian. "The patient today on 12 postoperative days is now walking with minimal support, all her pain has gone, her voice and dysphasia has recovered completely and, most importantly, her life was saved by this technique."

The surgeons followed in the footsteps of a similar 2014 surgery in China and another in Australia in 2016, the latter of which involved a patient who had a tumor in his upper vertebrae, which would have been tricky, if not impossible, to remove without harming the crucial neck support, according to Mashable.

Thanks to 3D printing, doctors were able to perfectly replicate some of the man's vertebrae and replace them. The surgery was intricate, but he reportedly recovered well, despite the complications of having his throat opened up.

"I saw this as a great opportunity," neurosurgeon Ralph Mobbs, who operated on the Australian man, told Mashable. "[With 3D printing], the patient could be supplied with a custom-printed body part to achieve the goals of the surgery much better than we previously have had in our bag of tricks."

Sources: The Guardian, Mashable / Photo credit: Jonathan Juursema/Wikimedia Commons

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