Chinese teen gets world's first 3D-printed vertebra implant

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The use of 3D printers in the medical field took another step forward this week after a group of Chinese surgeons successfully implanted an artificial vertebrae replacement in a patient. The procedure is considered to be the first of its kind.

Doctors at Beijing's Peking University Third Hospital were able to replace the second vertebrae on a 12-year-old boy identified as Minghao. According to China Central Television, Minghao was diagnosed with cancer after injuring his neck while playing soccer. Doctors treating Minghao for the neck injury identified a malignant tumor on the boy's spine.

Liu Zhoungjun, director of orthopedics at the hospital, said revolutionary 3D printer technology will help Minghao's recovery.

"Using existing technology, the patient's head needs to be framed with pins after surgery. The patient's head cannot touch the bed when he is resting. This lasts for three months," Zhongjun told the Chinese news outlet. "But with 3D printing technology, we can simulate the shape of the vertebra, which is much stronger and more convenient than traditional methods."

The vertebrae replacement is the latest innovative medical application of 3D printed technology. In 2013, two University of Michigan doctors were able to save the life of an infant who suffered from tracheobronchomalacia—a rare condition in which the bronchus collapses—by implanting a 3D-printed splint approved by the Federal Drug Administration. And a team of doctors and researchers from Harvard, MIT, Stanford, and the University of Sydney announced that they have successfully made artificial blood vessels using a 3D printer, an achievement that has been hailed as "a game changer."


Fidel Martinez is an editor at He's also a Texas native and a lifelong El Tri fan.