According to market-based research firm IDTechEx, the medical and dental market for 3D-printers is set to grow from US$141 million to $868 million by the year 2025. And when you consider the recent spate of groundbreaking medical procedures, it is pretty easy to see why. The latest surgery brought to you by the seemingly endless possibilities of 3D-printing comes at the hands of doctors at China's Peking University Third Hospital, who produced a custom implant to replace a cancerous vertebra in the neck of a 12-year-old boy.

Minghao (a pseudonym) didn't feel much pain when he headed a soccer ball during a match with his friends. But waking up the next morning with a stiff, aching neck offered an early sign that something was not quite right. One month after the incident, Minghao's entire body went numb, leading spinal experts to perform a biopsy and ultimately diagnose him with a malignant tumor on the second vertebra in his neck.

Following two months of lying in the orthopedics ward at Peking University Third Hospital, only able to stand for a few minutes at a time, doctors commenced what would be the world's first 3D-printed vertebra surgery.

Over five hours, the doctors removed the cancerous vertebra and implanted the 3D-printed piece between his first and third vertebrae. This involved clearing the nerves, carotid arteries and spinal chord of cancerous tissue and fixing the artificial vertebra in place with titanium screws, The doctors say the 3D-printed implant was an improvement on current methods and enabled a much quicker recovery time.

"Using existing technology, the patient’s head needs to be framed with pins after surgery," Liu Zhongjun, director of orthopedics at Peking University Third Hospital, told "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."

A huge advantage of 3D-printing is the ability to customize medical implants, allowing for a perfect fit with the patient's anatomy. Some recent examples include 3D-printed spine cages, skull and jaw implants, along with customized mouthpieces for sleep apnea sufferers.

While he is unable to speak and uses a writing board to communicate, Minghao is said to be in good physical condition and recovering as expected.