Cancer patient receives 3D printed ribs in world-first surgery

The sternum (the central piece) and the rib cages emanating from it, have been designed using precise scans to perfectly fit in the patient's chest after he had sections removed.

3D printed sternum: The ‘chest’ story you’ll hear all week. Image credit: Anatomics

A Spanish cancer patient has received a 3D printed titanium sternum and rib cage designed and manufactured right here in Australia, at our Melbourne-based 3D printing facility in Melbourne.

Suffering from a chest wall sarcoma (a type of cancerous tumour that grows, in this instance, around the rib cage), the 54 year old man needed his sternum and a portion of his rib cage replaced. This part of the chest is notoriously tricky to recreate with prosthetics, due to the complex geometry and design required for each patient. So the patient’s surgical team determined that a fully customisable 3D printed sternum and rib cage was the best option.

Here's how the 3D printed sternum and rib cage fit inside the patient's body.

Here’s how the 3D printed sternum and rib cage fit inside the patient’s body. Image: Anatomics

That’s when they turned to Melbourne-based medical device company Anatomics, who designed and manufactured the implant utilising our 3D printing facility, Lab 22.

The news was announced by Industry and Science Minister Ian Macfarlane today. And the news is good, 12 days after the surgery the patient was discharged and has recovered well.

This isn’t the first time surgeons have turned the human body into a titanium masterpiece. Thoracic surgeons typically use flat and plate implants for the chest. However, these can come loose over time and increase the risk of complications. The patient’s surgical team at the Salamanca University Hospital thought a fully customised 3D printed implant could replicate the intricate structures of the sternum and ribs, providing a safer option for the patient.

Using high resolution CT data, the Anatomics team was able to create a 3D reconstruction of the chest wall and tumour, allowing the surgeons to plan and accurately define resection margins. We were then called on to print the sternum and rib cage at Lab 22.

The sternum (the central piece) and the rib cages emanating from it, have been designed using precise scans to perfectly fit in the patient's chest after he had sections removed.

The sternum (the central piece) and the rib cages emanating from it, have been designed using precise scans to perfectly fit in the patient’s chest after he had sections removed. Image credit: Anatomics

As you could imagine, the 3D printer at Officeworks wasn’t quite up to this challenge. Instead, we relied on our $1.3 million Arcam printer to build up the implant layer-by-layer with its electron beam, resulting in a brand new implant which was promptly couriered to Spain.

This video explains how it all works.

The advantage of 3D printing is its rapid prototyping.  When you’re waiting for life-saving surgery this is the definitely the order of the day.

We are no strangers to biomedical applications of 3D printing: in the past we have used our know-how to create devices like the 3D printed heel-bone, or the 3D printed mouth-guard for sleep apnoea suffers.

When it comes to using 3D printing for biomedical applications, it seems that we are just scratching the surface of what’s possible. So, we’re keen to partner with biomedical manufacturers to see how we can help solve more unique medical challenges.

Media contact: Crystal Ladiges, Phone: +61 3 9545 2982, Mobile: +61 477 336 854 or Email:

8 Comments on “Cancer patient receives 3D printed ribs in world-first surgery”

  1. gubatron says:

    Reblogged this on Gubatron.

  2. I wish they had a video of the printer printing the implant.

  3. Trygve Hansen Eidem says:

    Hi, I suffer from poor lung-capacity (more precisely less volume than normal) due to the birth-defect “Pectus Excavatum”.

    My conditition was quite severe, but I got oldfashioned surgery where they trim down the cartilage of the ribs (making it flexible); then replace the defected sternum. After the cartilage grew back and my ribcage healed; I got a tad more lungcapacity. But it’s still pretty much rubbish. I can’t run very far. Often: quite often, I have to take deep breaths of air to feel ok.

    I’m happy for the plastic surgery I have received, but I believe in science and advancement.

    So, I wonder if it would be possible to make these types of titanium-ribcages to replace some parts of the defected ribs/bones?

    Many people in the world have Pectus Excavatum or Funnelchest in different degrees.

    The benefits apart from appearance (one is often ashamed and feel ugly) is being able to breath properly, and be more sporty and active. Being able to run and swim without “hitting the wall” prematurely during exercise.

    Ok, I have been thinking about a lot of science-fictional ideas since I was a kid. So any answer about this would be deeply apreciated 🙂


    • Adam Knight says:

      Hi Trygve,

      You would need to discuss this with a specialist. We worked with Anatomics to 3D print this sternum and rib cage for the patient and his surgical team in Spain, so it would be best to check in with a doctor locally to see what your options might be.

      Good luck,

  4. qmjk says:


  5. Glenn Anderson says:

    I too had part of my sternum, ribs and collar bone removed because of tumors. I’m looking for a surgeon here in the US, maybe even in Florida that would be interested in this type of procedure. Its been a long road and never believed there would be a chance that I may one day have a viable solution to this disfiguring effect from a such destructive disease. Thanks so much. Glenn

  6. Owen Morgan says:

    I have had my sternum replaced with a new sternum made of bone cement. I had a tumor in the sternum, so it had to come out. The operation was in December 2000 and I have photos of the surgery. I had to go back for a warranty when the tumor grew back. They just cut the couple of ribs off and sent me on my way. I work full time as an automotive technician and believe that it has not affected my daily functionality very much at all
    A huge thanks to Peter MacCallum cancer centre in Melbourne for looking after me.

  7. Eye Surgeon says:

    I would love to see this for other bones that might be damaged due to arthritis or injury. This might even help animals.

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