3D printed body parts have become a reality in India, a game changer which promises to alter the medical landscape in India. The courage of a school teacher has ushered in almost unnoticed a quiet medical revolution in India with links that spread from Bareilly to Gurgaon.
A doctor from Metro Hospital, Noida said, “3D printing is indeed an upcoming innovation offering personalised medicine.” Efforts are also being made to master the same technique on living tissue to replace full organs but that is still some distance away. Imagine printing a copy of your own kidney to replace a damaged one! Earlier this month, a team of young doctors from Medanta: The Medicity in Gurgaon on the outskirts of the capital successfully performed a surgery on the failing spine of a woman and inserted for the first time a 3D printed titanium implant giving the woman a completely new lease of life.
Almost miraculously four days after the surgery, the woman was walking. Had traditional surgical techniques been adopted, according to the doctors she would have walked after months. Dr Naresh Trehan, founder of Medanta, said, “3D printing technology has opened up whole new vista to re-create body parts to save lives.” After a school teacher suffered a debilitating collapse of her neck vertebra due to TB, doctors from Medanta claimed to have used India’s first 3D printed titanium implant to bring the patient back from near collapse to near normal life.
Last month, walking and talking were a Herculean task for the 32-year-old patient who is also a dancer and singer, her neck was collapsing, as the TB bug had slowly consumed the second and third vertebra in her neck. Once the spinal cord started getting compressed, the woman started losing sensation on all her limbs, making life very difficult.
After a first-of-its-kind surgery in India, she can now hope to lead a near normal life. Having undergone a 10-hour surgery of February 3, the patient who does want to be identified, said, “I’m better now, but towards the end I had a lot of problem. I was not able to walk, I could not sleep at night because of the pain nor could I do anything. Now I am feeling much better.” Faced with this complex medical problem, a team of 10 health specialists decided to deploy for the first time a custom made ultra-modern 3D printed titanium implant to replace the two infected vertebra in her neck.
The other option would have been to use a piece of bone from the patient’s own leg but that would have, according to the medical team, kept her in the bed for more than 6 months after the surgery.
Lead surgeon Dr V Anand Naik, from Medanta said, “We did the body part reconstruction with a 3D printed vertebra in a damaged spine of a patient who was getting quadriplegic. This was done for the first time in the country and probably for the third time in the world.” Such a surgery has been attempted once last year in Australia and in 2015 in China.
Using x-rays and high resolution Cat-scans, a virtual three dimensional computer model was prepared of the damaged part of the spine. A suitable replacement was then designed on the computer, this was then sent to a 3D printer in Bareilly where layer by layer using lasers the titanium implant was made specifically designed for the patient.
This 3-cm-long specially designed medical metal cage was made with 154 grams of high-grade titanium and cost less than Rs one lakh. Then in a day-long surgery it was placed between the head and the torso of the patient relieving pressure on the spinal cord. Dr Rahul Jain, lead designer of the 3D implant at Medanta and all of 28-years-old, said, “Actually it was quite difficult to design this implant because of the complex anatomy of the spine. Titanium implants are totally safe, as these are bio-compatible and it was also made sure that it would not impinge on the spinal cord.”
Not everyone though is convinced about the merits of the medical breakthrough, Dr Ravi Mittal, orthopaedic surgeon at the All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS), New Delhi, said, “We normally do not use custom-made implants for 2 vertebral level problems. Regular off the shelf implants and bone grafts are good enough. Custom made implants are required in special situations. It seems that a usual situation has been termed unusual and custom-made implant has been used.” The patient is till now happy with the outcome of this novel surgery as she was able to walk on day four after the complex surgery. In about a year, she hopes to resume her dancing and singing as she is still fighting off her TB infection which has left her very weak.
Another specialist from Metro Hospital, Noida, said, “This is definitely a big step towards using innovation to help patients. Normally, using regular implants can sometimes be challenging especially in complex cases as the bones of the patient have to be manipulated to ensure the implant fits. By using this 3D technology, the bone implant can be custom-made for the patient.”
This is now truly personalised medicine in orthopaedics for the very first time in India. Jain says, “The patient is up and about and she is walking again that is a big achievement of the custom-made implant design team.” A brave school teacher has unleashed a brave new world of 3D printed body parts in India.