With the prospect of losing his right leg below the knee, the active 71 year-old was facing an uncertain future, when he arrived at St Vincent’s.
While amputation is the current treatment for the heel cancer that Len was suffering from, Professor Choong instead began to investigate the possibility that 3D technology might help to not only save Len’s leg, but give him the prospect of being able to walk on it again.
A specifically designed titanium implant was created to replace the cancerous heel bone in Len’s right foot.
“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,” Prof Choong said. “Going from the possibility of an amputation, to a result where you preserve the limb is very rewarding, if you can achieve it,” he added.
Scans of Len’s tumour-free left foot were used to create a mirror image, which formed the basis of the design for the 3D right heel.
Professor Choong brought in Melbourne-based implant manufacturer, Anatomics, to create a model of the implant, and then CSIRO was enlisted to print the titanium 3D heel.
This pioneering procedure is an example of the life-changing patient outcomes that flow from co-locating biomedical engineering research within a clinical setting.