World’s First 3-D Printed Tibia Transplanted

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Surgeons in Australia have successfully performed a world-first transplant surgery, installing a 3D printed tibia into the leg of Reuben Lichter, who faced losing his leg above the knee to amputation. The 3D printed tibia was wrapped in blood vessels and leg tissue from both of his legs. Just over two weeks ago, in the last in a series of five surgeries, the procedure was declared a success. For the next nine months at least, the doctors hope to observe new, healthy bone growth in the patient’s right shin supported by the transplanted scaffolding.

Lichter’s own tibia began causing him intense pain at the beginning of this year. He was diagnosed with osteomyelitis (a severe disease usually caused by bacteria) which infected his entire bone, causing it to gradually disintegrate. When offered the chance to undergo this experimental procedure, he agreed to an attempt to save his leg rather than opt for amputation. Lichter is now doing well, and although it will take at least 18 months, doctors believe he will be walking again once he fully recovers.

First, doctors needed to drain the pus from the patient’s infected leg. Prototypes of the 3D tibia scaffold were then tested. The experimental procedure concluded with the most recent operation, when the final version of the scaffold was transplanted. “We needed to work out where we could get tissue that had the potential to grow bone,” lead surgeon Dr. Michael Wagels told The Age.

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