The world's first 3-D printed titanium rib cage was implanted on a Spanish patient who lost his sternum and a portion of his rib cage to cancer, Australian Minister for Industry and Science Ian Macfarlane announced Friday in a press release.

The 54-year-old man was suffering from chest wall sarcoma, and doctors had to remove his sternum and part of his rib cage because the cancer had grown around it and needed an implant to replace them.

However, it is not easy to create a prosthetic rib cage because of its complicated shape. The commonly used flat and plate chest implants can come loose and cause complications. Thus, doctors at the Salamanca University Hospital decided that a 3-D printed implant customized for the patient was the safest option.

The doctors asked Anatomics, a medical device company based in Melbourne, to create the 3-D printed sternum and rib cage for the patient. High resolution CT scans of the area were used in order to make an accurate design for the implant. When the data was ready, Anatomics turned to the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO) for the 3-D printing.

CSIRO's 3-D printing laboratory, Lab 22, is equipped with an Arcam printer capable of producing the titanium rib cage implant.

"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," CSIRO said in a blog post. "We were then called on to print the sternum and rib cage at Lab 22."

The titanium rib cage was then shipped to Spain where it was successfully implanted in the patient, who was discharged from the hospital after 12 days and is recovering well.

"This breakthrough is an impressive example of what can be achieved when industry and science come together," Minister Macfarlane said. "This collaboration crossed disciplines and international boundaries, with a clear benefit for both this individual patient and for surgical practice."

"When it comes to using 3D printing for biomedical applications, it seems we are just scratching the surface of what's possible," CSIRO said.