So if one hand washes the other, a 3D printed titanium replica of one foot saves the other. How does that grab you? Len Chandler, 71, of Australia, may have been skeptical at first, but he is already able to bear half his weight on his newly built foot, thanks to a team of very resourceful doctors and scientists.

Len Chandler,71Diagnosed with cartilage cancer in the spring, Chandler was referred to Professor Peter Choong, surgeon at St. Vincent’s Hospital in Melbourne, Australia. Choong was known to be working with 3D printing, and while he had studied procedures using the technology for ‘non-weight bearing’ parts of the anatomy, he believed the use of 3D printing could save Chandler from amputation. A tumor had invaded Chandler’s calcaneus, which is quite simply, the heel bone. A large bone, serving as the foundation for the back of the foot, it connects with the talus and cuboid bones, and the Achilles tendon is attached to it.

With an extremely small percentage of body tumors occurring in the calcaneus, this was a rare case all around, with the likely scenario for most patients in this situation being the loss of one’s leg below the knee.

Lucky for Len, the medical profession is showing signs of exhibiting a pretty good comfort level with turning to the technology of 3D printing for trying new things that might sound far fetched to their patients at first. What is impressive for all is his progress.  If his recovery continues like it has been, then a wonderful Christmas gift of no crutches may be in his very near future.

“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,” Mr. Chandler said. “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.”

Len Chandler, with Prof Peter Choong at St Vincent's Hospital.It took a team of open-minded doctors and scientists to save Chandler’s foot:

  • St Vincent’s Hospital surgeon Prof. Peter Choong and his medical team
  • Melbourne biotech company Anatomics
  • CSIRO – The Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO), which is Australia’s government science research agency, and one of the largest in the world.

“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,” Prof Choong said. “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.”

Saving Len Chandler's FootBy scanning Chandler’s perfectly healthy left foot, Professor Peter Choong and his team in Melbourne, Australia were able to make a 3D scan for the right foot in preparation for sending the data to Melbourne-based implant manufacturer Anatomics, where they created a design for a new heel bone for Chandler. CSIRO experts came onto the scene with their high tech Arcam 3D printer, which manufactured a titanium heel implant from the design.

CSIRO spokesman John Barns said: “Prof Choong was really taking the risk and Anatomics were coming up with the design, and we were willing to back them up.”

Throughout the ages, those involved in medicine have operated on the cutting edge—because often it is a last resort, or something comes along that instills great confidence in those busy saving lives and limbs. The technology of 3D scanning and printing is making an imprint in history, and in the lives of individuals who could have seen a very different outcome. What do you think about this latest medical breakthrough? Share your thoughts with us in the 3D Printed Heel Bone forum at 3DPB.com.

Choong

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