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12-year-old boy with bone cancer gets first 3D-printed vertebra

Of all the fascinating objects produced by 3D printers, this may be the most amazing yet.


Miles Klee


Posted on Aug 24, 2014   Updated on May 30, 2021, 5:30 pm CDT

Of all the fascinating objects produced by 3D printers in the short time they’ve existed, this may be the most amazing yet.

China Central Television reports that a “Beijing hospital has carried out the the world’s first 3D printed vertebra surgery.” In a five-hour operation, doctors replaced the tumorous second vertebra in the neck of a 12-year-old boy named Minghao, who had injured his spine due to then-undiagnosed bone cancer.  

3D-printed vertebra used in spine surgery:

— 10 News (@WTSP10News) August 24, 2014

Surgical first: 3D printed vertebra implanted in 12-year-old boy with bone cancer

— CBS News Health (@CBSHealth) August 22, 2014

Liu Zhongjun, director of orthopedics at Peking University Third Hospital, explained the groundbreaking procedure and how it would benefit the young patient:

“Using existing technology, the patient’s head needs to be framed with pins after surgery. The patient’s head cannot touch the bed when he is resting. This lasts for at least three months. But with 3D printing technology, we can simulate the shape of the vertebra, which is much stronger and more convenient than traditional methods.”

For some days after the surgery, Minghao “still could not speak and had to use a writing board to communicate,” though he’s doing well and expected to recover soon. Miracles just don’t always happen overnight.

H/T CCTV | Photo by Michael Dorausch/Flickr (CC BY-SA 2.0)

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*First Published: Aug 24, 2014, 1:42 pm CDT