Surgeons print out 3D body implant for spinal operation

Neurosurgeon Marc Coughlan.

Australian surgeons have cured a patient’s chronic spinal problem with a 3-D printed titanium implant in what could be a major breakthrough in the treatment of back pain and other orthopedic complaints.

The patient, 38-year-old Amanda Gorvin of the NSW central coast, says she is “100 per cent” free of chronic back pain since the custom im­plant was inserted four months ago to straighten her spine.

“I’ve got my life back,” said Ms Gorvin, who had become depressed after 30 years of pain from a back problem she had been told was inoperable.

Her neurosurgeon, Marc Coughlan, said the success of the operation — in which a small titanium implant was 3-D printed so it fitted exactly into the contours of a misshapen vertebra in Ms Gorvin’s spine — could have major implications for a wide range of surgical procedures.

“It does open up a different world,” Dr Coughlan said. “You could use this technology for implants in the neck, in the thoracic spine, in surgery on the knee and thigh. It points the way to a time when all surgical implants might be customised to fit the individual patient.”

The operation is the first of its kind in Australia and one of the first in the world. The implant was a collaboration between medical research organisation ProCRO and Melbourne prosthetics company Anatomics, which designed the implant with the help of scientists at RMIT University where the implant was created on an electron-beam “printer” that melted powdered titanium into complex shapes.

Dr Coughlan consulted US spinal surgeon Chet Sutterlin, who moved to Australia in 2011.

While surgeons in China and France reportedly have used the technology to create spinal implants, the technique is so new Dr Sutterlin could not find it in peer-reviewed literature.

He said Australia could be a world leader in the technology because regulatory approval for such “custom” devices was relatively quick and efficient here.

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