3D printing helps 71-year-old man avoid amputation

Once again, doctors have successfully used 3Dprinting to save the life — or in this case foot — of a patient. Recently, surgeons at a New York hospital have credited 3D printing with helping to save the life of a two-week-old baby who required complicated heart surgery. Now, a staff of Australian doctors have carried out the world’s first procedure of printing a new heel bone.


Pioneered by Professor Peter Choong at Melbourne-based Saint Vincent’s Hospital, the breakthrough has allowed 71-year-old Len Chandler to avoid amputation after being diagnosed with cartilage cancer in the foot. Typically speaking, those suffering from this disease lose the leg below the knee due to possible fracture.

“The good thing about this tumor I suppose, as it were, is that it was purely within the bone. That meant we could do things to the bone that we otherwise couldn’t. Traditionally you would manage this by amputation below the knee. The reason being that it’s come out of the knee. The reason being, it’s come out of the bone, it’s into the soft tissue and it makes any form of reconstruction very, very difficult. Recognizing that we could actually cut the bone out, meant we could preserve the nerves, tendons and the arteries and rebuild him with a prothesis. So that trick was how do you actually get a prothesis to match precisely the bone you are removing,” Choong explained.


In order to create an exact replica of the patient’s right heel bone, the team mirrored a CT scan of Chandler’s tumor-free left heel bone which had the exact dimensions. The bone was then constructed out of titanium using a 3D printer.

The groundbreaking procedure was done in collaboration with a team of biotechnologists from Anatomics and the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization (CSIRO).

“We designed an implant that was taken from the otherside of the heel. The part that was designed in 3D software and that software was then used to export the data file and and sent to the CSIRO and they manufactured the Titanium heel to our design,” said Andrew Batty, CEO of Anatomics.

Once printed, the staff replaced the cancerous bone by implanting the prosthetic and allowing Chandler to keep his foot!

Professor Choong hopes that this breakthrough will facilitate a downward trend in the number of amputations for similar procedures. He added, “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.”


“This is a great way of demonstrating that we can actually be bold enough to start creating parts, for example, the pelvis, the thigh bone, parts of the shoulder – failry complex structures that in the past were difficult to manufacture and now we’ve done so. But at the same time in a way that fits the patient, there by making both the surgery more accurate, the reconstruction more accurate and allowing the reconstruction of the soft tissues and muscles around it to occur much more effectively ”

And as for Mr. Chandler, he’s just happy to be back on his feet again. “I’ve got no irritation or pain, or anything from that, it just fits perfect. I couldn’t ask for anything better.”

This isn’t the first time doctors have been able to successfully implemented 3D-printed bones. Earlier this year, doctors at the Kyoto University Graduate School of Medicine in Japan had successfully transplanted 3D printed hard tissue into four patients with cervical spine (cervical) disc herniation. In time, we can surely expect to see a growing number of doctors, researchers and other medical professionals explore the unlimited possibilities of 3D printers — a majority of which are powered by AVR XMEGAmegaAVR and SAM3X8E MCUs. That’s what we call making a difference!

1 thought on “3D printing helps 71-year-old man avoid amputation

  1. Pingback: Rewind: 2014 was the year of the 3D-printed prosthetic | Bits & Pieces from the Embedded Design World

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