Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization (CSIRO), the federal government agency for scientific and medical research in Australia, successfully integrated 3D printed titanium and polymer sternum implants into a British patient. In partnership withAnatomics, a Melbourne-based medical device company which led the development and designing of the 3D printed sternum implant, and British surgeons, CSIRO was able to manufacture custom-built titanium- and polymer-based sternum implants with an enterprise-grade 3D printer in its Lab 22 facility.
61-year-old Edward Evans, a British patient who had his sternum removed in a complex operation after suffering from a rare infection, took part in the world’s first 3D printed titanium and polymer implant operation. Since the completion of the operation, CSIRO revealed that Evans was able to recover well, without any medical or health complications and side effects. The operation was performed at Heartlands Hospital in Birmingham, UK. Previously, 3DPrint.com reported that K2M, leading developer of complex and minimally invasive spinal surgery technology, launched 3D printed titanium spinal solutions for clinical usage. K2M’s solutions utilized the same metal as CSIRO in titanium. Titanium has also been used previously in sternum operations.
“We approached Anatomics initially, who put us into touch with the team from Salamanca to learn from their experience. It was a real multinational collaboration between surgical units as well as industry using the latest technology,” said cardiothoracic surgeon Ehab Bishay, who had heard of the titanium sternum 3D printed and successfully implanted in 2015. “Although cement is tried and tested we believe that custom built 3D printed titanium implants may have certain advantages which we are looking to show. Titanium is more resistant to infection, lightweight, tough, and since it exactly replicates the defect, it means that the operative time is reduced as it slots in. It should also offer a better cosmetic result.”
He continued, “…we made a number of refinements to the original implant used by the group in Spain. They had used a synthetic mesh behind the implant in the first operation, to reduce the chance of the lungs herniating between the titanium rods that replicated the ribs. Unfortunately that mesh became infected and they had to remove it during a second operation. Instead we asked Anatomics to coat these rods with porous polyethylene to add bulk so we did not have to use a mesh. This seemed to have worked with no signs of infection in Edward’s implant.”
Tom Morrison, a neurosurgeon at Polaris Spine & Neurosurgery Center in Atlanta, Georgia, revealed that titanium-based 3D printed implants led to reduced recovery time for patients, due to their abilities to adapt to the human bone structure efficiently. For Evans, this speedy recovery progress made possible with titanium implants was crucial because of the severity of his infection and complexity of his last surgical procedure which removed his sternum.
Director of CSIRO Manufacturing Dr Keith McLean stated:
“I’m proud of our cutting edge work with Anatomics that has enabled patients around the world to regain the ability to walk, to sit-up and lead normal lives. Here in Melbourne, we have quietly been developing what we believe is one of the world’s most advanced capability in reconstructive prosthetics, and this recent success in the UK demonstrates that.”
With the successful recovery of Evans, CSIRO aims to continue pursuing its joint project with Anatomics, which has lived up to the expectations of the Australian government in its latest task of designing 3D printed implants.
Paul D’Urso, Executive Chairman of Anatomics, explained that both Evans and CSIRO particularly spoke highly of the technological capability of the company to structure 3D printed implants in such a way that both the hard and soft tissues of Evans were reconstituted without any complications.
“For the first time, Anatomics, together with the CSIRO, has manufactured a 3D printed patient specific skeletal reconstruction with advanced composite materials. Mr Evans wonderful recovery testifies to the ability of Anatomics to reconstruct both the hard and soft tissues of the human body in a single prosthetic implant,” said D’Urso.
The demonstration of industry-standard 3D printing methods by CSIRO and Anatomics presents a bright future for the Australian health care and medical industry. By referring to the successful operation of Evans, the two companies will most likely focus on the manufacturing and designing phases of titanium implants, to ensure that the technology can be widely adopted by hospitals and health care organizations in the country for commercial applications.
If the technology and methods of CSIRO reach the level of commercialization, patients like Evans with severe injuries and complicated organ or bone removal procedures will be able to receive sturdy, reliable yet affordable implants at a faster rate as 3D printing continues to impact the future of surgery.
Immediate integration of implants is crucial for patients like Evans because if a rare infection or a severe injury lead to the elimination of a body part, in this case Evans’ sternum, the human body will be extremely vulnerable and exposed to alarming threats.For instance, when surgeons removed the sternum of Evans, vital organs in the chest including his chest and lungs were widely exposed, which made it impossible for Evans to carry out even the most basic activities until an implant was integrated. When traditional implants are considered, the waiting process for the manufacturing of custom-built implants and the slow recovery process would take at least months and, in some cases, up to years. Therefore, the health care sector is desperately waiting for the commercialization of the technology.
Health Minister Greg Hunt further emphasized that the Australian government is optimistic towards the utilization of 3D printing technology within the field of health care and announced that the government will continue to support the development and commercialization of the technology led by private sector companies like Anatomics.
“The Government is committed to working with the health and medical research and manufacturing community to support ways we can bring innovation to our current health framework, cut red-tape and grow Australia’s already considerable capability in this sector,” said Hunt.