A 60-year-old man in Croatia had been suffering from an infection in his shoulder, resulting in him losing a great deal of bone mass and most of the function in the joint. His level of function, in fact, was down to about 30% – but after a successful surgery, he’s expected to regain 80% of his shoulder’s original function. In addition to regaining the use of his shoulder, the man also made history, becoming the first person in Croatia to receive a 3D printed shoulder joint.
The surgical team that implanted the 3D printed shoulder was led by Nikola Matejčić, MD at the Clinic for Orthopaedics in Lovran.
“The latest technological advancements in design of osseointegrating implant segments were used,” Dr. Matejčić explained. “The implant was created using a technology of additive manufacturing, namely the Trabecular Titanium 3D printing technology which represents a revolution in production of medical implants.”
Trabecular Titanium is a proprietary 3D printing biomaterial developed by Italian company Lima Corporate. Its structure mimics that of trabecular bone, and its porosity enhances cell migration and vascularization, facilitating the transport of oxygen, nutrients, ions and bone inducing factors, encouraging the formation of new bone. 3D printed using Electron Beam Melting (EBM) technology, Trabecular Titanium components can be fabricated in any geometry, meaning that it’s easy to create patient-specific implants.
The surgery took about three hours and the patient is now recovering nicely and is expected to be discharged by the end of the week. The operation was a collaborative effort, said Dr. Matejčić, with the Faculty of Medicine in Rijeka, the Clinical Hospital Centre in Rijeka and its Department of Radiology, and the Centre for Biomedical Modeling and Innovations in Medicine all working together.
While this surgery was the first in the country involving the implantation of a 3D printed shoulder joint, it wasn’t the first to utilize 3D printing for this clinic. At the beginning of this year, the clinic implanted a 3D printed pelvic joint, and is impressed with the ability of the technology to repair highly damaged joints and restore normal function.
“The 3D printing technology really marks a new age in orthopaedics and medicine in general,” said Branko Šestan, MD, Director of the Clinic for Orthopaedics. “Up until a few years ago, this would have been considered science fiction, as we’ve never thought an entire joint could be reconstructed this way.”
It’s true that until recently, few people would believe that a major joint could be replaced by a 3D printed one, much less that the 3D printed replacement would allow function comparable to that of a normal healthy joint. Now, however, these stories are everywhere. A woman in France had her shoulder restored through 3D printing not long ago, and similar implants have been made in the Netherlands, in China and elsewhere. As 3D printing continues to approach the point at which it’s considered mainstream in the medical field, it’s stories like these that encourage the general public to have faith that this technology really is the future of medicine, so they can be aware of options that can help them.
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