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Transplant jaw made by 3D printer claimed as first

A 3D printer-created lower jaw has been fitted to an 83-year-old woman’s face in what doctors say is the first operation of its kind.

The transplant was carried out in June in the Netherlands, but is only now being publicised.

The implant was made out of titanium powder – heated and fused together by a laser, one layer at a time.

Technicians say the operation’s success paves the way for the use of more 3D-printed patient-specific parts.

The surgery follows research carried out at the Biomedical Research Institute at Hasselt University in Belgium, and the implant was built by LayerWise – a specialised metal-parts manufacturer based in the same country.

Articulated joints

The patient involved had developed a chronic bone infection. Doctors believed reconstructive surgery would have been risky because of her age and so opted for the new technology.

The implant is a complex part – involving articulated joints, cavities to promote muscle attachment and grooves to direct the regrowth of nerves and veins.

However, once designed, it only took a few hours to print.

A 3D printer was used to make the synthetic jawbone – Courtesy of LayerWise

“Once we received the 3D digital design, the part was split up automatically into 2D layers and then we sent those cross sections to the printing machine,” Ruben Wauthle, LayerWise’s medical applications engineer, told the BBC.

“It used a laser beam to melt successive thin layers of titanium powder together to build the part.

“This was repeated with each cross section melted to the previous layer. It took 33 layers to build 1mm of height, so you can imagine there were many thousand layers necessary to build this jawbone.”

Once completed, the part was given a bioceramic coating. The team said the operation to attach it to the woman’s face took four hours, a fifth of the time required for traditional reconstructive surgery.

“Shortly after waking up from the anaesthetics the patient spoke a few words, and the day after the patient was able to swallow again,” said Dr Jules Poukens from Hasselt University, who led the surgical team.

Details

Category

engineering precision

Date

February 7, 2012

Author

Sally

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