Reuben Lichter was facing the likelihood of losing his leg, but soon he could be running around after his young daughter after Brisbane surgeons performed a world-first transplant of a 3D printed shinbone.
The pioneering procedure at Princess Alexandra Hospital spared Lichter, 26, an above the knee amputation and showcased Queensland’s trail-blazing surgical expertise.
The spontaneous onset of tibial osteomyelitis had destroyed the majority of Lichter’s tibia. The 3D printed model was inserted to act as scaffolding and wrapped in biological tissue to engineer new bone, according to PAH plastic surgeon Dr Michael Wagels, who led the team.
“A multi-disciplinary operating team involving orthopaedic and plastic surgeons took 14 hours to reconstruct Mr Lichter’s tibia with a 3D printed model,” 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 with 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.”
The first person in the world to have a 3D printed tibia transplant said he was willing to undergo the ground-breaking procedure if it meant his leg could be saved.
“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,” Lichter said.
While the full outcome of the surgery won’t be known for 18 months, Minister for Health Cameron Dick said it is an example of the world-leading innovation of the state’s health system.
“Innovative and ground-breaking treatments and technologies such as this world-first surgery offer new hope for Queensland patients,” Dick said.
“I am humbled and inspired by the outstanding work Queensland Health clinicians do in our public hospitals each and every day.”
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