At the age when most boys and girls are enjoying activities on the playground with friends – 12-year-old Minghao was bedridden at Peking University with a gap in his spine. Surgeons had removed a tumor-infested vertebra from his lower neck.

Some miles distant, a high-powered laser was sintering powdered titanium into an exact replica of his missing vertebra. Later, Minghao received the world’s first 3D-printed vertebra replacement, complete with miniscule pores to allow bone to properly fuse the implant with his spine. While there will be extensive rehabilitation and therapy, Minghao will be able to walk again.

-As an advanced center for spinal care and restoration, we’re always interested in how technology is continuing to shape the world especially orthopedics. And considering the first 3D-printed object was a cup – quite an inauspicious beginning for a mechanical miracle that would be used to print guns, transmissions, chess pieces and so much more – it’s easy to see how such technology could be extremely beneficial to spine surgeons in Los Angeles and throughout the nation.

Interested in learning more about 3D-pringing and orthopedics? Here are just a few ways in which this technology can shape the future of orthopedics:

  • Rapid Prototyping and Manufacturing

    Over-the-counter 3D printers using thermoplastic compounds can churn out bone implants, even crude skeletons, in only a few hours. Currently, 3D printers rely on CAD models for guidance, but as slicing and scanning techniques improve, they may be able to replicate components using only laser scanning.

  • Custom and Safe Implants

    In the Netherlands, a woman went blind because of pressure from her skull. To relieve the problem, physicians removed the top half of her skull and replaced it with a plastic replica from a 3D printer. Three months later, she could see again, proving that 3D-printed orthopedic implants can work in areas in which hand-crafted prototypes struggle. Models made from bioceramics, thermoplastics and metals are already used in bone replacements.

  • Biological Implants and Organs

    The frontier of 3D printing in orthopedics is biological implants: human bones and even organs manufactured from biocompatible materials – or even from life itself. Living cells reproduce in a petri dish, and the resulting substance is fed through a 3D “bioprinter.” The company Orgavano, for instance, uses preexisting human cells to print skin tissue. One day, physicians may manufacture nerves, livers, maybe even a heart.

3D-printed vertebra are the newest item made possible by advancements in technology, following things such as minimally invasive spine surgery, lumbar and cervical artificial disc replacement and stem cell regeneration, just to name a few. The landscape is constantly changing and it’s our commitment at The Spine Institute Center for Spinal Restoration to share those changes, while also doing everything in our power to bring such technology and advancements to the patients we serve.

For more information about the latest, cutting-edge treatments for treating neck and back pain, contact our Santa Monica spine surgery center today at (310) 828-7757 and request an in-person consultation with our experienced and world-class diagnostic team.