A guy just beat cancer with a freaking 3D-printed titanium chest implant. Take that, cancer.

The cyborgs are here, and they are definitely on our side.

What would you do if you had to choose between having cancer or having a chest?

Suppose you're 54 years old and you suddenly find out that a cancerous bone tumor known as a chest wall sarcoma has devoured your sternum and part of your ribcage.

For all of the remarkable advancements that have been made in the fight against cancer, there's not much that can be done in a case like this. By removing the infected tissue, you're pretty much left without any upper torso skeletal support.


That may have worked for one of my favorite obscure X-Men characters, but it presents some issues in the real world.

There's one other option. And even though it sounds like something out of science fiction, it actually works.

A man in Salamanca, Spain, has received the world's first 3D-printed titanium chest implant. Which is kind of like this:

A full-scale model of the T-800 from the "Terminator" movies. Photo by Yoshikazu Tsuno/AFP/Getty Images.

Except actually more like this:

Photo by iStock/Anatomics. Used with permission.

With help from Anatomics, a Melbourne-based company that specializes in innovative medical devices, surgeons used a series of high-resolution CT scans of the patient's chest in an attempt to recreate his existing bone structure.

This also allowed better planning for the actual surgery; the doctors knew ahead of time exactly where the pieces would go and exactly how they'd fit, which, er, meant a lot less time spent diggin' around in the poor guy's open chest cavity (which is always good news).

The implant was then 3D-printed by an Australian company called CSIRO using a high-powered electron beam to melt down the powdered titanium into a more malleable material (so don't get too excited about the prospect of 3D-printing an army of metal skeletons on your little consumer-grade MakerBot — not yet, anyway).

Basically it goes from this:

To this:

To this:

GIF set via CSIRO.

Chest implants and 3D-printed parts separately are nothing new. But bringing them together? That's pretty cool.

In the past, reconstructive surgery for the chest wall has relied on flat metal plates and screws. It's an imperfect process that's not really known for its longevity (though it's certainly better than nothing).

But by using 3D modeling to recreate the complicated geometries of the patient's unique ribcage and sternum, this particular process turned out to be much safer and more reliable. As José Aranda, a doctor on the surgical team, explained in a press release, "Thanks to 3D printing technology and a unique resection template, we were able to create a body part that was fully customised and fitted like a glove."


A 3D-printed skeleton of Richard III, which is mostly just here to aid dramatic pacing but also sounds like something out of a crazy steampunk Shakespeare sci-fi film I haven't written yet. Photo By Leon Neal/AFP/Getty Images.

And so far things are looking good — the patient was discharged 12 days after the surgery and is well on his way to recovery, shiny metal ribs and all (or at least, I'm assuming it's still shiny — you can't really see it, ya know?).

Maybe we can't stop cancer from ever happening. But it's still nice to know the future's on our side.

When we think of 3D-printed titanium bones, we're probably thinking more about some post-apocalyptic movie like "The Terminator" than we are about the actual real-world applications of this incredible technology.


Speaking of "practical applications," here are some 3D-printed dinosaur bones. Like we don't already know how that's gonna end. Thanks, "Jurassic Park." Photo by ChinaFotoPress via Getty Images.

Don't get me wrong; there are still plenty of things that we need to concern ourselves with as we move into the future. But while we're busy lamenting the lack of jetpacks and flying cars, there are people using new technology to build houses and hands and heads and even hearts (not technically functioning, but we're almost there).

So yeah, cancer's still a thing. But we've got 3D-printed, titanium-chested cyborgs on our side, so I say bring it on.

Here's a cool little video on the 3D-printed-sternum process, courtesy of CSIRO:

More

Whenever someone's words or behavior are called out as racist, a few predictable responses always follow. One is to see the word "racist" as a vicious personal attack. Two is to vehemently deny that whatever was said or done was racist. And three is to pull out the dictionary definition of racism to prove that the words or behavior weren't racist.

Honestly, as soon as refers to the dictionary when discussing racism, it's clear that person has never delved deeply into trying to understand racism. It's a big old red flag, every time.

I'm not an expert on race relations, but I've spent many years learning from people who are. And I've learned that the reality of racism is nuanced and complex, and resorting to a short dictionary definition completely ignores that fact. The dictionary can't include all of the ways racism manifests in individuals and society, and the limitations of dictionary definitions make it a poor tool for discussing the topic.

Since "racism" is such a loaded term for many people, let's look at such limitations through a different complex word. Let's take "anxiety." According to Merriam-Webster, "anxiety" is defined as "apprehensive uneasiness or nervousness, usually over an impending or anticipated ill."

Now imagine thinking that you understand everything that encompasses anxiety from reading that dictionary definition. Imagine thinking you could recognize the signs of anxiety in someone based on that definition alone. Ridiculous, right? The dictionary doesn't explain that some people's anxiety manifests as anger, even though it does. It doesn't say that anxiety sometimes manifests as withdrawal or aloofness. It doesn't say that you often won't see obvious signs of fear or nervousness in someone experiencing anxiety.

The dictionary doesn't offer anything close to the reality of what anxiety is or looks like. It would be silly to say that someone isn't experiencing anxiety because they're not clearly showing signs of nervousness like the dictionary definition implies. Just as the dictionary definition of anxiety is not comprehensive, neither is the dictionary definition of racism. Yet people keep using it to "prove" that something or someone isn't racist.

Fox News analyst Brit Hume just pulled that trick on Twitter to try to back up his claim that Donald Trump's "go back to" statements to four Congresswomen of color weren't technically racist.


The first Merriam-Webster entry for "racism" reads "a belief that race is the primary determinant of human traits and capacities and that racial differences produce an inherent superiority of a particular race."

Merriam-Webster

First of all, I'm not sure how this definition actually makes Trump's statements not racist. A belief is not always conscious, so even assuming that his racism is unconscious, a white man telling four women of color to "go back to" their countries of origin—despite three of them being born in the U.S. and the fourth being a naturalized citizen of the U.S.—is pretty objectively racist. No one knows exactly what is going on in the President's head, but such statements only being made to women of color would certainly be consistent with the behavior of someone with a belief in white people's inherent superiority.

But that simple definition isn't truly definitive, either. Shortly after Hume's tweet, Merriam-Webster pointed out a usage note for the word "racism," which clarifies that dictionaries do not provide the be-all-end-all definition of words.

Anti-racism advocates have tried time and time again to explain that racism is not as straightforward as someone saying, "I think I'm superior to people who don't share my skin color." Racism is almost never that blatant, and yet oodles of Americans refuse to call anything less than that kind of bold statement "racism." We have a long history showing exactly how white supremacy—the origin of racism in the U.S.—exerts itself in both strong and subtle ways, and thousands of hours and pages of education from experts describing how racism works on an individual and societal level. But people still insist on the simplistic narrative of "Racism=hating people of a different race."

I've seen many people, including Brit Hume, argue that the word racism has lost all meaning. Frankly, that's a copout. Racism—as both a conscious or unconscious belief of racial superiority and as a system of racial prejudice blended with power dynamics—has a broader meaning than one person hating another person for the color of their skin. But that doesn't make it meaningless.

I've also seen people complain that "everything is racist these days," but no, it's really not. We simply understand more about racism now, thanks to the field of race studies and to people of color offering their time and energy to explain it, so it's easier to identify in its various forms. In my experience, when someone's understanding of racism reaches a certain stage, they start recognizing it in places where ignorance or unconscious bias may have caused them to miss it in the past. That's not imagining racism where it doesn't exist or "calling everything racist these days"; that's simply seeing reality more clearly.

When you really dive deep into the historical, psychological, and sociological reality of racism in America, it becomes painfully obvious that racism is far more prevalent and enmeshed in our society than most people think. Until defensive, mostly-white folks stop automatically denying racism every time the word is used and stop throwing around dictionaries to avoid having to do that deep dive work, we're not going to make real headway on this issue.

Let's stop pretending that the definition and supposed overuse of the word "racism" is the problem, when the problem is racism, period.

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