An Australian Woman With Chronic Back Pain, A Beautiful Neurosurgeon and A 3D-Printed Spine Implant (Plus Other Patients With Custom 3D-Printed Body Parts)

Source of Featured Image:

RMIT University

Dear Pain Matters blog readers,

Is this the title of a new science fiction novel??

“An Australian Woman With Chronic Back Pain, A Beautiful (Neurosurgeon’s) Mind and A 3D-Printed Spine Implant”

No, this is not science fiction….This really did happen!

Welcome to the futuristic world of 3D-printed body parts, and its potential role in reducing chronic pain!

Happily, for Amanda Gorvin, the future is now!

Amanda (38) had suffered persistent and crippling lower back pain for more than 30 years.  Amanda suffered shooting pains and countless sleepless nights due to a deformed lower back vertebra.  She had spent an entire adult life on antiinflammatories, ibuprofen, Nurofen, cortisone injections and physiotherapy.  Amanda’s lower back pain had affected her quality of sleep, resulting in only 3-4 hours sleep a night, as well as lethargy and exhaustion during her waking hours.  By now, her lower back pain adversely affected her social, sporting and sex life.  She was unable to dress herself without exerting a huge and painful effort.  As a result of her lower back pain that limited her physical activity, Amanda gained 30 kg in 5 years.

She finally had enough of her ‘bones rubbing’ in her lower back, causing excruciating pain every time she moved.  One night at 2AM, she dragged herself out of bed and crawled into the kitchen, crying out in pain.  At a loss what to do next, Amanda told her neurosurgeon, Dr Marc Coughlan, several days later, “Marc, I can’t do this anymore.”

Her neurosurgeon replied, “I’ve got this new thing.”

Dr Marc Coughlan and another surgeon collaborated with 3D implant company, Anatomics, and a team of scientists and engineers at RMIT University (Melbourne) to custom design a 3D-printed spinal implant for Amanda Gorvin.  Few international surgeons have done this procedure, and Dr Marc Coughan was the first Australian surgeon to attempt this.  His patient, Amanda, was Australia’s first patient to agree to this.

After explaining the risks to Amanda, Dr Marc Coughlan operated on 3 April 2015 to insert a custom 3D-printed spinal implant into her lower back.

In Dr Coughlan’s words (quoting):

“The beautiful thing when we put the implant in was that it felt like a key going into a lock.  I could actually feel it click into place.  It was so intrinsically stable, it was like a dream for a spinal surgeon.”   

marc 201x214

Dr Marc Coughlan, MBChB, FRACS, FCS


After her 3D-printed spine implant operation, Amanda stated (quoting):

“I was back at work four weeks after the operation, back in the gym after six weeks,” she says. “I was breathing better, my mind was clearer, I felt lighter. It’s incredible how much influence the spine has on the rest of the body. I remember that pre-surgical pain and now I ­haven’t got one per cent of it. It’s nothing short of miraculous.” As she speaks, Gorvin becomes emotional and reaches for a tissue. “This has absolutely changed my life,” she says.”


Amanda Gorvin


Results like this simply speak for themselves….

Amanda has Dr Marc Coughlan, Neurosurgeon, to thank (for his beautiful mind).  Of course, the idea would not have materialized without the help of the 3D-printing team led by RMIT University Professor Milan Brandt and key staff at Anatomics.  The custom 3D-printed spinal implant literally erased Amanda’s lower back pain (that she had suffered for more than 3 decades).


Len Chandler (71), recipient of a 3D-printed titanium heel:

A 71-year old former builder from Rutherglen, Victoria, Australia, Len Chandler, was facing amputation of his right leg below the knee due to rare cartilage cancer in his right heel.

Luckily, a surgically-implanted 3D-printed titanium heel (the first of its kind in the world) changed his fate for the better.


Len Chandler (above), together with replicas of his 3D-printed heel


China Daily Asia

After surgery for his 3D-printed heel implant, he stated (quoting):

“I’ve got no irritation or pain or anything from that.  It just fits perfect, I couldn’t asked for anything better.”

A 22-year old Dutch woman, recipient of a 3D-printed near-entire plastic skull:

A Dutch woman (22) suffered from severe headaches, loss of vision and compromised motor coordination as a result of abnormal skull thickening.  Without drastic intervention, she was facing further brain function loss, ongoing severe headaches and an early death.

Her doctors surgically implanted a near-entire plastic skull, custom 3D-printed by Anatomics.  The operation was a huge success.  Three (3) months after her surgery, the woman’s severe headaches have disappeared and she fully regained her vision.


Above, 3D-printed plastic skull


Richard Stratton (32), recipient of a 3D-printed titanium jaw joint:

Richard Stratton, a 32-year old Melbourne-based psychologist, received a 3D-printed prosthetic jaw implant on 23 May, 2015.

Part of his jaw had never grown properly ever since he was knocked in the jaw during childhood.  In fact, he was missing part of his jawbone including the left condyle (part of the temporomandibular joint, or TMJ).  This caused significant strain on the right side of his jaw and also left him with a crooked smile.

In recent years, he suffered sharp pain while moving his jaw, biting, chewing and eating and he also had painful headaches at night.  He was unable to fully open his mouth.

Dr George Dimitroulis (Oral and Maxillofacial Surgeon, St Vincent’s Hospital, Melbourne) designed a prosthetic jaw that included a 3D-printed titanium jaw joint implant and a 3D-printed plastic jaw joint (in collaboration with Dr Ackland and team, Department of Mechanical Engineering, The University of Melbourne).  The entire process from the initial design stage to the 5-hour operation took 3 years.

The plastic jaw TMJ is (likely) the first 3D-printed jaw joint in the world.

Quoting Dr Dimitroulis:

“The excitement was unbearable I think, just at the last minute we thought it just wasn’t going to fit in but it just slid in nicely.”

“It just clipped in.”

He has reason to be “very proud” that 3 years of hard work had resulted in such positive results.


Above, Dr George Dimitroulis (Oral and Maxillofacial Surgeon, St Vincent Health)


One month after the post-surgery pain and swelling (that lasted a few days) subsided, Richard Stratton said he was able to open his mouth wider than before the surgery.  Several months later, he was chewing on both sides and eating normally.  His painful headaches at night also disappeared.

For more details, please view video by The University of Melbourne called:

‘When BioMechanics Colllides with Medicine’

Quoting Richard Stratton (several months after his operation):

“The joint has been working really, really well. It really has improved my quality of life.”


Above, Richard Stratton’s 3D-printed titanium jaw part (attached to a 3D printed version of his skull)


Above, ‘Before Surgery’ (left) and ‘After Surgery’ – with surgical scar visible on jawline (right)


Patients with severe TMJ pain caused by jaw joint osteoarthritis, cancer, trauma or congenital abnormalities may benefit from 3D-printed titanium jaw joint implants.  Such implants may lead to complete restoration of jaw function plus significantly reduced/nil jaw pain.


Here’s to the future that may include 3D-printed body implants to help reduce chronic pain!  Happily, for some, the future is already here!

Sabina Walker


(1A) The Shape of Things to Come

Richard Guilliatt; The Australian (The Weekend Magazine) (pages 10-14); August 15-16, 2015

(1B) Surgeons Print Out 3-D Body Implant

Richard Guilliatt; The Australian (page 3); August 15-16, 2015

(2) Joint Effort Produces Australia’s First 3D Printed Spine Implant

RMIT University; August 17, 2015

(3) Anatomics

(4A) 3D Printing: Rare Cancer Sufferer, Len Chandler, Back On His Feet After Receiving Titanium Printed Heel
Lisa Tucker; ABC News; 22 Oct 2014

(4B) Close to the Bone
Karl Wilson (in Sydney, Australia); China Daily Asia; 16 January, 2015

(4C) World First Heel Implant at St Vincent’s Private Hospital Melbourne 7 News

(5) Medical First: 3-D Printed Skull Successfully Implanted in Woman
James Eng; NBC News; 27 March 2014


(6A) The Jaws of Life

Val McFarlane; The University of Melbourne; 24 September 2015

(6B) Titanium, 3D-Printed Prosthetic Jaw Implanted in Melbourne Man in Australian First Surgery

Stephanie Ferrier; ABC News; 22 Jun 2015


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