'This is just the beginning': China approves world's first 3D-printed hip joint for general use
China's approval of the first 3D-printed implant for mass use could lead to a boom in the technology and benefit hundreds of thousands of patients every year, according to medical experts.
The artificial hip joint was created using 3D-printing technology developed by Peking University and a Chinese private medical company. The metal joint can fit the personal requirements of individual patients "perfectly", its creators said.
Chinese doctors have long been examining the applicability of 3D printing to medicine. Last week, a six-year-old boy from Guizhou province with brittle bone disease was able to walk again after a pioneering surgery using a 3D-printed model of a skeleton.
Doctors at the University of Hong Kong-Shenzhen Hospital used it to examine the boy’s bones in greater detail than X-rays would have allowed, and plan the bone incisions in advance.
Commercial certification of the joint was approved by the China Food and Drug Administration on Friday, state media reported.
Zhang Ke, a researcher on the project at Peking University's Third Hospital, said the number of joint replacement surgeries in China has been increasing more than 30 per cent every year, with about 300,000 patients requiring hip implants in 2014.
Patients paid as much as 100,000 yuan (US$15,600) per surgery because the implants, mostly imported from overseas, were so expensive, Zhang said.
Liu Zhongjun, another PKU orthopaedist involved in the project, told CCTV that the 3D-printed hip joint would not only significantly reduce the cost to patients, but also improve their quality of life.
Current implants, mass produced in factories based on general specifications, will not necessarily match a patient's body very well.
The 3D-printed hip joint has undergone three years of clinical trials on over 30 volunteers with good results, according to the Science and Technology Daily, a newspaper run by the Ministry of Science and Technology.
Liu said his team's product was the first 3D-printed hip joint in the world to receive official government certification, and marked the dawn of a "mass production era" for 3D printed implants in China.
"This is just the beginning," he told CCTV.
"Approval for other 3D-printed implants will be accelerated and announced soon ... in this field [China] will not follow other countries, but will be first and lead the world."
In a speech to the State Council last week, Chinese Premier Li Keqiang said that 3D printing could be a "disruptive technology in the manufacturing industry [where it has] transformed traditional conceptions and methods of manufacturing".
While the Chinese government has invested substantial resources in the development of 3D printing, the country still relies on overseas suppliers for many crucial components.
The 3D printer used in the production of the new metallic hip joint, for example, was made by Arcam AB in Sweden, according to the manufacturer's website.