3D Printed Vertebra Implanted in 12-Year-Old Boy in China, Welcome to the Future!

Ulia Koltyrina/Fotolia

In this modern, high tech world of ours, there are a lot of remarkable things being 3D printed: book covers, earbud attachments, doggie wheelchairs, Barbie armor, 3D bedtime stories, and now, amazingly, even medical implants. Doctors in China have now used 3D printing to create a replacement vertebra which was implanted in the spine of a 12-year-old cancer patient. How's that for incredible?

The procedure, which removed a tumor from the boy's spine and inserted the printed vertebra, took place at Peking University Hospital in Beijing and lasted 5 hours. The patient, 12-year-old Qin Minglin, is reportedly in good condition, and doctors feel confident that this new vertebra will serve him better than the traditionally manufactured implants would.

Apparently the traditional procedure for replacing a vertebra requires doctors to attach a titanium tube using screws and surgical cement that can detach over time. And obviously, when things are detaching close to your spinal column that is seriously not good. For the procedure on Qin Minglin, however, the medical team used extensive and engineering software to create specifications for an exact replica of the vertebra they were replacing, which they created using titanium dust an a 3D printer.

"When I was told that he would be the first case of this kind, I was a little torn,” Qin’s mother, Xu Minglin, said. “But in the end, I considered that 3D technology has already been applied in the medical world, and they must be confident."

And, in fact, 3D printing is becoming a bigger and bigger part of medicine. From printed teeth to printed prosthetics, to even the possibility of printed drugs or (incredibly) printed organs, 3D printing has the potential to revolutionize medicine with custom-made products that seem directly out of science fiction. And yet, this is happening, and the doctors at Peking University Hospital aren't the first to use 3D printed objects. Doctors in the Netherlands have even used 3D printed implants to replace most of a woman's skull.

Clearly, we are living in the future. Welcome.