3D-Printed Jaw Transplant Surgery a Success
The world's first 3D-printed, patient-specific jaw transplant surgery was successfully performed on a patient in the Netherlands, according to a BBC News story released today. The patient had a chronic bone infection and was not a suitable candidate for reconstructive surgery. This development points to a future in which 3D printing will increasingly be a useful tool for personalized medicine by producing patient-specific implants — and maybe even 3D-printed organs, down the line.
The implant, built by LayerWise, a specialized metal-parts manufacturer, was made out of titanium powder that was heated and fused together by a laser, one layer at a time.
Although the implant's design is complex — involving articulated joints, cavities to promote muscle attachment, and grooves to direct the regrowth of nerves and veins — once designed, it took only a few hours to print. Once completed, the part was given a bioceramic coating. The operation took four hours, a fifth of the time that traditional reconstructive surgery normally takes.
This surgery follows research carried out at the Biomedical Research Institute at Hasselt University in Belgium. Researchers at the University of Washington have also made progress in using 3D printers to produce complex bone scaffolds. One ultimate goal of this area of research is to print body organs ready for transplant, but in order for that to become a reality, scientists must find a way to print organic tissue and bone by formulating an organic "ink." Sounds like quite a task, but one worth pursuing.