Hack Your Rib Cage with Titanium 3D Printing

A Spanish hospital recently replaced a significant amount of a man’s rib cage and sternum with a titanium replacement. Putting titanium inside people’s chests is nothing new, but what made this different was the implant was 3D printed to match his existing bone structure.

An Australian company, Anatomics, created the 3D print from high-resolution CT scans of the patient. They used a printer provided by an Australian Government corporate entity, CSIRO, that helps bring technology to Australian companies.

Biomedical printing has been in the news quite a bit lately and we’ve covered CT scan to 3D model conversions more than once. Is this the dawn of the age of the cyborg? Maybe it’s really mid morning. Many people walk around with pacemakers, Vagus nerve stimulators, and plenty of more conventional titanium hardware in them now.

While the ethics of replacing a cancer patient’s rib cage is pretty clear, the real issue will be when people want enhancements just for the sake of it (think of the controversy surrounding runners with prosthetic legs, for example). It might seem far-fetched, but as replacements become better than originals, some people will want to opt for replacements for perfectly good body parts.

Images courtesy of [Anatomics].

29 thoughts on “Hack Your Rib Cage with Titanium 3D Printing

    1. As someone who’s had a titanium implant just below my knee, it isn’t a positive thing. I had it in there for 3 years and it was so much better after taking it out. I stopped martial arts before I had it in there, but I’d much rather have blocked a Muay Thai kick without it.

      1. I have a load of Ti in my chest (not 3D printed, though) and yeah it isn’t a good thing. Aches when the weather changes among other things. However, I can see the day coming when you can get things that are better than the original in every way.

        1. One interesting thing I learned about medical implants from my Biomaterials class was that any material that you implant into the body with a higher (maybe lower too) Young’s modulus will always scar. Young’s modulus, if you don’t know, is a material’s relationship between stress and strain – sort if its springiness. So if you have a less springy (higher modulus) material implanted in your body, such as titanium in bone, the bone flexes more than the titanium under the same load, and will produce micro cracks over time which scar. For this reason, all implants have a finite life. For instance, a hip implant would have a lifetime of about 10 years.

  1. Where’s the controversy? It’s made up in order to get more clicks, by unscrupulous journalists.

    This isn’t even like abortion, where the detractors at least appear to be concerned about the effect on a second life. This would be entirely about improving oneself, where the only controversy comes from people who want to impose their own values on others.

    1. Good grief; how does the title of this article suggest there is a controversy, thereby making it click bait? The title in no way suggests that the article contain thoughts about potential abuse of this and other biotech. Sorry you are that pot calling the kettle black on the topic of ginning up controversy.

  2. The physics department of a nearby small rural university played a role in developing the coating put on replacement body parts made of metal that help the bone knit to replacement. I would think vcost would limit any abuse. Then again Dick Cheney who was able to live to an age mant don’t see got a heart that should went to a younger person potentially to live to the age Cheney was at the time. Protocols are easily ignore sometimes, who knows what the future will bring? The potential power that body replacements could bring may increase injury the the body, so their the growth of there use outside medical necessity might be self limiting. That’s my guess anyway.

    1. I’d love to see more about the coating; bio/mech interfaces are always the biggest issue I’ve found in theoretical “biohacking;” getting the cells to adhere and interface with a new part, as opposed to relying only on more basic mechanical processes. when we can reliably produce such materials/fixtures, I could see this technology advancing quite a bit. Here’s hoping I live long enough to reap at least some benefits; being able to live like you’re 40 at 80-90 would be a godsend; many times I find that the deterioration of mobility/lifestyle goes hand in hand with mental degradation.

      I genuinely believe we can eventually leverage this kind of technology to improve the lives of people across the board, even if it’s only in niche cases for now.

    1. According to the video from CSIRO, they used an Electron Beam Melting 3d printer. This is similar to a Selective Laser Sintering powder printer, with the exception that the use of an electron beam instead of a laser results in complete melting at the local scale.

      While SLS causes the particulates to soften and bind to their neighbors, producing sphere packing similar to styrofoam, EBM causes full melting, producing a part that is 100% solid. This process produces structures that are as strong, and in some cases stronger than metal casting techniques.

      Also, the reason titanium is used is not for strength, but because titanium is bio-compatible. There is no risk of biological interaction with the hardware like there is with many other metals. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Titanium_biocompatibility#Biocompatibility

  3. A very similar chest implant, albeit with titanium SLS, was created and applied to a cancer patient for the first time back in 2013, in Turkey.
    Here is the link to the article:
    http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3895055/#!po=1.42857

    The same team (btech), who developed a particular method for creating 3D patient-specific implants by merging multiple imaging technologies, came to news recently with their titanium jaw implant for a sea turtle.
    http://mobile.reuters.com/video/2015/05/28/terminator-turtle-gets-a-3d-printed-tita?videoId=364384083

    “Putting titanium inside people’s chests is nothing new, but what made this different was the implant was 3D printed to match his existing bone structure.”

    The Aussie team claims to be the world’s first, but I think they should follow the literature more closely. This was done before and if you look at the article above, you can even see the images, etc.

    Koray

  4. Printing in wax and using lost wax casting (of titanium) could make a much smoother part. Is there a reason they printed in metal and did the cleanup afterwards? Do they want the part to be rough in parts for bonding purposes?

    1. The rough parts would make for a better bond, yes, but I suspect the primary reason for printing it was the faster turn-around. Additional reasons might be issues with the biocompatibility of trace wax/mold residues on the object, as well as the reduced constraints on the 3d form of the implant. (3d printing can produce structural internal voids, where lost-wax can only produce solid volumes.)

      1. I was kind of wondering the same thing about the surface finish. It’s fine that it is 3D printed for me, but I was amazed that the part wasn’t polished or otherwise cleaned up in any way after the fact, unless that is another process after what we are seeing here.

        1. Like Dave said, rough finish means greater surface area, and many more little nooks for the patient’s cells to grab hold. A perfectly smooth one would be more likely to slide about, even after cells have grown around it.

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