3D Printing

3D Printed Heel Bone Saves Man from Amputation

Australia continues to be a happening place for 3D printing in medicine.  Not only does the nation offer the world’s first Masters in Bioprinting program, but doctors there are continually in the news for aiding patients with 3D printing.  Most recently, doctors at St Vincent’s Hospital have saved a man from amputation with the technology.

According to the Herald Sun, 71-year-old Len Chandler was diagnosed with cartilage cancer in April.  The tumor had already taken over the calcaneus, or heel bone, on his right foot.  Because the complex bone moves in conjunction with the shin and foot bones, such a tumor would have typically resulted in a leg amputation below the knee.  Professor Peter Choong at St Vincent’s had other plans.  Chanlder, relays, “Prof. Choong said we could take the risk, and I had nothing to lose. I was hesitant and I didn’t know whether it would work, but I had to try it.”

3D printed heel bone for len chandler

Working with Melbourne biotech company Anatomics and the nation’s federal science research institution, CSIRO, Prof. Choong was able to provide Chandler with a 3D printed implant.  First, the medical team scanned the patient’s in-tact heel bone form his left foot.  Anatomics was then able to create a mirror image for his right foot.  The resulting 3D model was sent to CSIRO, which 3D printed an exact replica in titanium using an Arcam 3D printer.  After the tumor was removed, the doctors were able to successfully implant the new heel bone.

CEO of Anatomics, Andrew Batty, said, “This is very much a pioneering procedure.” The procedure was a world first, as most 3D printed implants are not load-bearing to the extent that this heel bone will be.  In the past, 3D printing has been used to create implants in the skull or, more rarely, the hip.  In Chandler’s foot, however, it will be bearing an even greater amount of weight.  Additionally, the implant required both a smooth surface, to work with his other foot bones, but also porous, so that tissue could grow inside of it and allow the body to accept it.

len chandler 3d printed heel bone

Prof. Choong said of the procedure, “Science advances have allowed us to consider 3D printing of bones and we were able to get information from Len’s foot and use that to tell the computers precisely how big his foot is, and reproduce that using the new 3D technology. Going from the possibility of an amputation to where you preserve the limb on account of one (replacement) bone is rewarding if you can achieve it.”  John Barns, a spokesperson for CSIRO, added, “Prof Choong was really taking the risk and Anatomics were coming up with the ­design, and we were willing to back them up.”

len chandler has heel bone 3D printedAfter his surgery on July 11, Chandler, a construction worker, is already on the path to recovery and can carry more than half of his own weight.  By Christmas, Prof. Choong believes he will no longer need crutches.  Chanlder said, “I didn’t know how good it was going to be – I don’t think Prof Choong knew how good I’d be – but I’m going very well.”  If the researchers can secure the $180 million in federal funding, they may be able to perform more such procedures through the planned Aikenhead Centre for Medical Discovery.

Photos via the Herald Sun.