The 3D printing movement has awed observers with feats like custom Valentine’s Day chocolates, and even entire cars like the Urbee, but last year a group of researchers from Belgium and the Netherlands used a printer in an unprecedented medical operation by creating and implanting a 3D-printed lower jaw in the mouth of an 83-year-old woman.
According to Medical Daily, the procedure happened in June and was intended to treat the elderly woman’s osteomyeltis, a serious bone infection, which had spread to the lower jawbone. Doctors knew that the jawbone would need to be removed, but felt that reconstructive surgery would be too risky, and so they decided to find an alternative.
Enter the 3D printer. Based on research done at the Biomedical Research Institute at Belgium’s Hasselt University, the team devised a jaw implant for the woman. The lower mandible was created by Belgium-based metal-parts manufacturer LayerWise, and reportedly took a few hours to print. The 3D-printed lower jaw is made with titanium powder, fused together with a high-powered laser, and later coated with bio-ceramics to make the implant compatible with the host’s body tissue. The jaw, at 3.774 ounces, weighs slightly more than the woman’s original bone.
“The new treatment is a world premier because it concerns the first patient-specific implant in replacement of the entire lower jaw,” said Hasselt University’s Dr. Jules Poukens.
The surgery reportedly lasted for four hours; doctors said that the woman was able to speak and swallow normally within a day of the operation. The elderly patient has a follow-up point later this month in order to insert a set of dentures. The jaw transplant isn’t the first foray into medical uses for 3D printers. Recently, engineers from Washington State University showed how 3D printed scaffold could be used to facilitate bone growth. The 3D printing medical movement could lead to more efficiency with the speed and precision of custom molded implants.