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3D printed tibia implanted in world-first surgery at PAH

8 September 2017

In a world-first, surgeons at Princess Alexandra Hospital (PAH) have transplanted a 3D printed tibia into a patient.

Reuben Lichter, 27, had the procedure after developing spontaneous onset of tibial osteomyelitis, or an infection of the bone, which resulted in the majority of the tibia being destroyed.

Conventional treatment for Mr Lichter’s condition was an above knee amputation.

However, PAH Plastic Surgeon Dr Michael Wagels said they were able to save the leg by inserting a 3D printed model, wrapped in biological tissue in an effort to engineer new bone.

“A multi-disciplinary operating team involving orthopaedics and plastic surgeons took 14 hours to reconstruct Mr Lichter’s tibia with a 3D printed model,” Dr Wagels said.

“The procedure involved removing tissue from the bone of the adjacent fibula with its blood supply intact and transferring it into the 3D model to cover approximately half of the model with the elements required to transform it into living bone.

“Additional tissue from the opposite knee was also removed and transplanted. This involved microsurgery to connect the blood vessels of the transplanted tissue the blood supply of the already transferred fibula periosteum. We know from our research that a robust blood supply is a crucial element to the success of the procedure”.

Mr Lichter has been unable to work since September 2016 and recently became a father.

He said he was happy to undergo the unique and experimental procedure if it meant the chance surgeons would not have to amputate his leg.

“Straight away I said yep let’s do it, I didn’t care that it was experimental, I would do anything to save my leg,” he said.

Mr Lichter said he was hopeful for the long-term outlook of the procedure but had a healthy outlook.

“Even if it doesn’t work and they do end up amputating, I’ve seen the prosthetics people and I’ve got my mind set that it could happen. I’m well aware and whatever happens, happens at this point,” he said.

“I actually think that I’ve always had a healthy outlook on it. I was just glad initially that I wasn’t in pain anymore. Because once they controlled the infection the pain disappeared and I said whatever happens from here, it’s better than living in pain.”

Mr Lichter said his fiancée Caity Bell had been a huge support throughout.

“We actually had a child two days before I was hospitalised, so she’s been amazing, a trooper,” he said.

Minister for Health and Ambulance Services Cameron Dick said the opportunities these new kinds of treatments and technologies would open up for Queensland patients were incredibly exciting.

“Which is why we’re embracing it with open arms,” he said.

Last updated 8 September 2017
Last reviewed 8 September 2017

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