In a world-first, a team of Thai doctors and engineers has successfully transplanted a workable titanium thumb in a patient.
Dr Thipachart Punyaratabandhu, the chief in Phramongkutklao Hospital's Orthopaedic Section, revealed yesterday that the first metacarpal was replaced by a titanium bone created by using 3D printing.
The operation was performed on a 37-year-old woman, whose thumb had deteriorated due to a tumour.
Traditionally, her lost bone would have been replaced by a bone from the hip or leg, which does not match the thumb joint and would not have been useable.
However, this new innovation replaces the thumb bone with a piece of biomedical titanium, which is stitched on to the nearest tendon, allowing the finger to move freely.
"The patient would not have been able to move their thumb or the tumour may have returned if the old method was used, but with the 3D-printed titanium bone, the patient can use their hand as normal," he added.
Doctors from Phramongkutklao hospital's Orthopaedic section and engineers from Chulalongkorn University teamed up and spent about two years researching and working on the project.
Boonrat Lohwongwatana, from the faculty of engineering, explained that the engineering team followed the X-ray of a thumb bone from the patient's other hand to copy and create a 3D one.
Later, the titanium was cast following the 3D model, which he said can be adjusted or adapted to fit any patient.
This titanium bone is lighter, stronger, cheaper and securer way of treating such cases.
"This technique can also be used to replace damaged bones from other parts of the body and it only takes a couple of weeks to make one of these bones," he added.