Much of the fanfare surrounding 3D printing has centered on its enabling consumers to create objects themselves, potentially circumventing traditional production models. Alongside NBA figurines and 3D printed pizza, however, the technology continues to provide valuable solutions in the field of medicine. Mobelife, a Belgium-based implant design company, has 3D printed a custom hip implant and given a once wheelchair-consigned teenager the ability to walk on her own.
The 15-year old Swedish girl suffered from a congenital disease which saw a neurofibroma, a benign tumor which grows on the peripheral nervous system, cause extensive damage to her pelvis. When surgery to remove the neurofibroma was followed by complications and ultimately a severe skeletal deformation of her left hip, the treatment options were limited and her doctors were uncertain if she would ever walk again.
Professor Rydholm of Skane University Hospital in Lund, Sweden, who was looking after the case, approached Mobelife, which on its website describes itself as "a specialist in implant design and production for challenging bone and joint reconstruction surgery."
Mobelife then set to work in creating the custom implant. Reuters reports that it was designed using a tomography scan, which creates a picture of the patient's unique bone anatomy. The implant was then used to reconstruct the defect, with screws attaching the implant placed strategically, based on the quality of the surrounding bone.
With the operation taking place in September 2012, she was pain free almost immediately afterwards. By Christmas she was out of her wheelchair and walking with one crutch, and now some 18 months later, is walking entirely un-aided.