For any number of reasons, regulatory issues among them, orthopaedic innovations in China often have modest relevance for the practice of orthopaedics elsewhere in the world, but that doesn’t make them any less fascinating.
Case in point: According to Becker’s Spine Review, surgeons in China recently implanted the first-ever 3D-printed cervical disc in a 12-year-old boy. The surgeon, Dr. Liu Zhongjun, described the procedure as successful, although the patient will have to remain in a head frame with pins for three months.
The Becker’s story did not specify the material from which the cervical disc was printed, but 3D printing is capable of producing porous metal implants, and companies have reported success with 3D-printed implants made from thermoplastic materials.
One theoretical advantage of 3D-printed orthopaedic implants is that they can be customized based on digital images of a patient’s actual anatomy. That would conceivably result in a better fit, quicker recovery, and fewer complications.
Still, don’t expect to find a 3D prosthetic printer in your hospital anytime soon. Clinical studies required to ensure the safe and effective use of even the most promising new technologies take years. And even after such studies are completed, regulatory approval and coverage from payers is not guaranteed.