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February 07, 2012

3D Printer Recreates Woman's Jaw

By Deborah Hirsch, TMCnet Contributor

Last year, a group of researchers from Belgium and the Netherlands used a printer in an unheard of way, “creating and implanting a 3D-printed lower jaw in the mouth of an 83-year-old woman,” according to a story by Jeff Hughes (News - Alert) at yahoo.com.

The story was originally posted on Digital Trends.

According to Medical Daily, Hughes reports, the procedure, which took place in June, was aimed at treating the elderly woman’s osteomyeltis, “a serious bone infection, which had spread to the lower jawbone.”

“Usually doctors just remove the jawbone but because of the woman’s age, they felt reconstructive surgery would be too risky, and so they decided to try to find something else,” Hughes writes.

Using research from the Biomedical Research Institute at Belgium’s Hasselt University, the team put together a jaw implant for the woman, according to the story. The lower jawbone was assembled by Belgium-based metal-parts manufacturer LayerWise, and Hughes reports that it “took a few hours to print.”

The 3D-printed lower jaw was made with titanium powder (occasionally used to make pyrotechnics).

The "printing" process used a laser to heat and melt the metal powder in the shape of the jawbone, allowing the 3D printer “to sculpt and build up the patient's medical implant layer by layer. . . coating the implant with a bioceramic” material to make sure that the patient's body would not reject the implant according to a story at newsdiscovery.com. The finished jaw, at a little under four ounces, weighed just a bit more than the woman’s original bone, Hughes writes.

“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 in the story.

Amazingly enough, doctors reported that the woman could  speak and swallow normally a day after the operation, according to Hughes.

This isn’t the first time for 3D printers to be used for medical purposes, says Hughes.   “Recently, engineers from Washington State University showed how 3D printed scaffold could be used to facilitate bone growth,” he writes.


Deborah DiSesa Hirsch is an award-winning health and technology writer who has worked for newspapers, magazines and IBM (News - Alert) in her 20-year career. To read more of her articles, please visit her columnist page.

Edited by Rich Steeves
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