3D foot miracle

Anatomics technician Stuart Hall holding a prototype of the unique replacement heel bone now worn by builder Len Chandler Pictures: TONY GOUGH, DAVID CAIRD

Anatomics technician Stuart Hall holding a prototype of the unique replacement heel bone now worn by builder Len Chandler Pictures: TONY GOUGH, DAVID CAIRD

Herald Sun, Melbourne  by Grant McArthur,  21 Oct 2014 

DOCTORS used a 3D printer to help build a Melbourne man a new heel bone and save him from losing his leg to cancer, in a world-first procedure.

Len Chandler, 71, is back on his feet after the Melbourne team used scans of his left heel bone to create a 3D image of his right one. They then used the 3D version to help construct an exact replica of the bone, the calcaneus, where a tumour had taken over.

Patients with advanced cancer in the calcaneus often lose the leg below the knee as it is too difficult to replace the highly complex bone, which must move in tandem with the shin and foot bones.

But the combined efforts of St Vincent's Hospital surgeon Prof Peter Choong, Melbourne biotech company Anatomics and the CSIRO to build Mr Chandler a new one have placed our city at the forefront of body-part development.

Following the groundbreaking surgery on July 11, the Rutherglen builder can already carry more than half his body weight.

He is expected be off crutches by Christmas.

"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."

When diagnosed with cartilage cancer in April, he was referred to Prof Choong as St Vincent's has been developing techniques with 3D printing.

The process has been used for simpler non-weight-bearing structures such as sections of skull, but Prof Choong believed recent technical advances meant a new-generation implant was possible.

Scans of Mr Chandler's tumour-free left foot were sent to Melbourne-based implant manufacturer Anatomics, which created a mirror-image design to help in the development of a replacement heel.

The firm called in the CSIRO, which was able to use its state-of-the-art Arcam 3D printer to build the implant from titanium.

"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," he added.

As well as needing to be a perfect replica of Mr Chandler's own bone, the implant required an ultra-smooth surface so it could work seamlessly with his other bones, tendons and muscles. And it had to be porous to allow tissue to grow into it for the body to accept it.

Anatomics CEO Andrew Batty said the project broke new ground and underlined the ability of Melbourne's biotech leaders to collaborate. "This is very much a pioneering procedure," he said.

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."

The researchers hope to build on such breakthroughs at the planned new Aikenhead Centre for Medical Discovery, which needs $180 million from the Government to proceed.