Canberra: Australian doctors have 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, doctors from St. Vincent's Hospital in Melbourne teamed up with biotech company Anatomics and the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO) to design and rebuild the heel of 71-year-old Len Chandler, who was diagnosed with cartilage cancer in April, Xinhua reported Tuesday.
Using scans of his healthy left heel bone to create a 3D image of his right one, the team of medical and technology experts -- led by St. Vincent's Hospital surgeon Peter Choong -- not only saved Chandler from having his leg amputated, they built him a new foot.
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.
Following the groundbreaking surgery July 11, the builder from the country town of Rutherglen can already carry more than half his body weight. He is expected be off crutches by Christmas.
He told radio station 3AW Tuesday he had prepared himself for life without his lower leg.
"There are a lot of people worse off then me and they manage without a foot," he said.
"I wanted to get on with my life. I thought well, 'If I've got to have it off, I've got to have it off'."
The ground-breaking use of 3D technology to help construct an exact replica of the bone has raised hopes that Melbourne could be at the forefront of body-part development.
Scans of 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.
The Herald-Sun reported that the 3D process has been used for simpler non-weight-bearing structures such as sections of skull, but Choong believed recent technical advances meant a new-generation implant was possible.
"Scientific 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," Choong told the Herald-Sun.