In Medical First, Packard Children’s Orthopedic Surgeon Implants High-Tech Artificial Bone in Three-Year-Old’s Arm

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PALO ALTO, Calif.–(BUSINESS WIRE)–When little Mark Blinder was diagnosed with a rare bone cancer, doctors at Lucile Packard Children’s Hospital gave his parents three agonizing options: amputate the affected arm at the shoulder, irradiate the tumor and risk a second malignancy, or try a limb-preserving surgery that had never been attempted in a toddler.

Nearly a year later, Mark, now four, is thriving with a surgically implanted artificial humerus inside his cancer-free right arm. He’s believed to be the first small child ever to receive a high-tech, telescoping prosthesis to replace the entire upper arm bone.

“This was a very unusual and challenging case,” said orthopedic surgeon Lawrence Rinsky, MD, who implanted the custom-made, one-of-a-kind artificial bone he also helped design.

“Little children with humerus tumors have very few limb-sparing options,” added Neyssa Marina, MD, the pediatric oncologist who oversaw Mark’s chemotherapy before and after surgery.

Rinsky and Marina aimed for a first-of-its-kind treatment that would cure Mark’s cancer, preserve his hand and allow his arm to keep growing. Designing and implanting an artificial humerus bone that would grow with Mark had obvious advantages over radiation, which would have killed the bone’s growth plates, or amputation. But the unconventional strategy came with no guarantees.

The prosthetic bone had to be small enough to fit in a three-year-old’s arm, strong enough to last a lifetime, and expandable, to allow for Mark’s growth. Balancing these demands presented a significant engineering challenge. On top of that, because Mark’s entire humerus had to be removed, the prosthesis could attach only to soft tissue. Most bone prosthetics replace half of a bone and are cemented to healthy bone; Rinsky had to find another way to hook up this implant. Even when the design was finalized with Indiana-based prosthetic manufacturer Biomet, Inc., Rinsky wasn’t sure the surgery would work.

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