Melbourne based 3D printing site opens new doors in medical prosthetics across the globe

A Melbourne 3D printing research unit has been helping to change the face of biomedical science through its manufacture of prosthetic limbs.

It only opened in late 2015, but already Lab 22 has saved and changed lives around the world.

The Melbourne-based CSIRO facility conducts 3D printing research that is changing the shape of medicine.

By customising prosthetics to the individual, the A$6 million centre has been able to assist patients avoid amputation or even death.

Dr Leon Prentice is Lab 22’s group leader, which is working closely with biomedical device manufacturers to create customised medical prosthetics using metallic additive manufacturing techniques – AKA 3D printing.

“Individuals would have a CT scan, from which you would develop an implant specifically designed for that application, typically either replacing bones or strengthening bones or structures in some way,” Dr Prentice said.

“They are customised exactly for each individual person, their particular bone structure and anatomy.

“Then we work with a number of companies to develop that in association with the surgeon in mind.

“That implant basically goes in the person and functions there.”

Despite the embryonic stage of the centre’s existence, there have already been numerous success stories. These are breakthroughs that have changed – and saved – lives.

“One of the early highlights was making a heel bone for a gentleman who had cancer in his foot,” Dr Prentice said.

“An elderly gentleman was going to have to have his leg amputated below the knee as the traditional method of treating that type of condition. Instead of that, we developed and 3D printed a new heel bone and that was printed and polished up and put in by the surgeon. The person could walk around 24 hours later.

“One of the other headline things that we have done is a sternum, replacing someone’s rib cage.

“They have had a soft tissue cancer and in the CT scans of the person’s rib cage you could design the exact part that would have the same flexibility that the rib cage would have. So the person has all the function, the movement and the flexibility that a normal rib cage would have, but in this case made from titanium.

“The sternum was in Spain, but we do work with companies that have applications around the world.”

Lab 22 is about more than just creating its own success, though. The purpose of the centre is to work with organisations and hand them the tools to conduct the same work themselves.

“We want companies to be able to harness the benefits themselves and be able to run with them,” Dr Prentice said.

“Another success story for us is our partnership with Oventus [sleep disorder specialists] who have just done an initial public offering.

“They have gone to such an extent that they have leased their own additive machines, they have co-located with us and they are doing their own thing and running their own commercial production of bio-medical devices.

“To our mind, that is success.

“When things get out there and companies are making money from it and having success in the market and harnessing these technologies, that is our measure of success.”