3D-printed implants just got one of their biggest real-world tests to date. Peking University Third Hospital has successfully implanted the first 3D-printed vertebra in a 12-year-old boy with cancer in his spinal cord. The bone substitute is made from titanium powder like many orthopedic implants, but promises to be both safer and longer-lasting than conventional replacements. Since it's designed to mimic the shape of the child's original vertebra, it doesn't need cement or screws to stay in place; healing should go faster, too. The construct is full of small holes that let natural bone grow inside, so it should eventually become a permanent, stable part of the spine that won't need adjustments at some point down the road.
CCTV notes that the full results of this surgery won't be available for some time. He'll have to wear gear that keeps his head and neck still for the next three months, and it will likely take much longer than that before we know how well the implant holds up in real-world conditions. If everything goes smoothly, though, the surgery will be proof that 3D-printed bones are useful virtually anywhere in the body — and, in some circumstances, might save your life.