3D-Printed Metal Rib Cage Transforms Mortal Man into Cyborg

Do cybrogs belong in the surreal landscape of science fiction or are they part of a future never before expected? The idea of mechanical elements implanted into the human body may have seemed extreme at one time in history, but today it is almost as common-place as aspirin. Lab 22 at Australia's Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization (CSIRO) has implanted a titanium sternum and rib cage for a 54 year-old cancer patient in Spain, adding to the list of 3-D implants which include: a 3-D printed skull transplant, a printer that applies new skin directly onto burn victims and even artificial blood vessels.


Titanium Rib cage: Source: OOYUZTitanium Rib cage: Source: OOYUZ


Anatomics and CSIRO

The innovative Spanish surgical team at Salamanca University joined forces with an Australian medical company called Anatomics when they were forced to remove the ribs and breastplate of a cancer patient in order to access the tumors in his chest cavity. Instead of resorting to conventional measures and inserting an unstable bone-shaped titanium form to replace the missing skeletal part, this company, which specializes in patient-specific technologies, studied the CT scans and digitally designed a titanium rib cage that would perfectly replace the patient's natural body part.


TitaniumSternum and Rib Cage: Source: GizmagTitaniumSternum and Rib Cage: Source: Gizmag


Anatomics could not have done the job without the help of CSIRO, Australia's federal agency for scientific research. Originating in 1926, this important organization has produced inventions and innovations that have had significant positive impact on the lives of Australians as well as people around the world. In this case, Anatomics borrowed CSIRO's AUD US $92,000 Arcam electron beam metal printerĀ  to bring the one-of-a-kind rib cage to life. This state-of-the-art, highly specialized device is equipped to work with metal and the rib cage implant was printed layer by layer. To boot, this makeshift body part will never loosen because it was permanently screwed into the man's skeleton.


Electron Beam Printer: Source: Research.CSIROElectron Beam Printer: Source: Research.CSIRO


Future applications for 3-D printing

Titanium rib cages are only one example of a burgeoning field in medicine that is exciting, innovative and revolutionary when it comes to effective patient care. From jaws to heel implants to custom-printed hips, the medical applications of 3-D printing technology represent a myriad of possibilities. One significant instance concerns a physician in Egypt who is using 3-D printing to create low cost stethoscopes to circumvent supply shortages incurred by HAMAS blockades between Israel and Egypt.

The mind-boggling idea of 3-D medication, the first pills of which have already been FDA approved, promises a new tomorrow of customized medication. Perhaps they can all be printed together and taken as one daily pill. Wherever it leads, 3-D printing is certain to become a fundamental aspect of future medical practice.

Some issues linger: How will these metal devices affect airport checkpoints and will terrorists find a way to use them to their advantage? These are, no doubt, matters for further consideration, but for now, these devices represent amazing and innovative applications marking the advances of modern technology and medicine.

Closing thoughts on 3-D printing:

3-D printing is a universal technology that has the potential to revolutionize our lives by enabling individuals to design and manufacture things. ~ Hod Lipson

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