Australian-first 3D-printed polymer breastbone procedure

Surgeons at the Royal Adelaide Hospital have successfully performed an Australian-first procedure implanting a 3D-printed polymer breastbone in a patient.

Director of Cardiothoracic Surgery, Dr Michael Worthington, said in order to remove a tumour, it also involved removing the patient’s sternum and replacing it with a new 3D-printed one.

“The artificial breastbone was designed to the patient’s anatomical specifications and it’s unique that this was the first person in Australia to receive a complete polymer implant,” he said.

“The polymer gives extra flexibility compared to titanium and if it were to get infected the polymer can be sterilised.”

The eight hour surgery went well and months on, 53-year-old patient Andrea Heading, who has had a long battle with cancer, is feeling well and is cancer-free.

Mrs Heading was first diagnosed with breast cancer in 2006 and had been in remission until it returned in lymph nodes behind her sternum in 2015.

The procedure also involved a major contribution by Dr Yugesh Caplash and his team who were involved in the major plastic surgery skin grafts required.

There have been just six operations in Australia using 3D-printed sternums — three at the RAH — but this was the first using a complete polymer device rather than titanium.