An 83-year-old woman in Belgium is now the proud owner of what could be possibly the coolest lower jaw in history: a 3D printed titanium mandible replacement. The jaw was implanted successfully a few months ago by doctors at the University of Hasselt BIOMED Research Institute in Belgium to replace the woman’s seriously infected jaw bone. The replacement was 3D printed by researchers at the University of Hasselt out of titanium powder. The jaw bone was printed by LayerWise with a new technique called Laser Melting technology which creates a patient-specific bone replacement that will, when the patient has recovered, work much like the jaw-bone her body built.
“Computer technology will cause a veritable revolution in the medical world. We just need to learn to work with it,” said Professor Jules Poukens after the surgery. “Doctors and engineers together around the design computer and the operation table: that’s what we call being truly innovative.”
3D printing is an innovative process that allows engineers to essentially spray layers of a material (a plastic or metal for instance) on top of each other in order to create a solid 3D form. 3D printing has allowed engineers to make beautiful art pieces, airplanes and food replacements but until now they’ve not been able to create a bone replacement that was ready to be tested in an actual person — though research is underway at many institutes using a plethora of materials.
The final jaw replacement made from titanium weighs just a tiny bit more than an actual jaw and will allow the patient to eat and speak as normal once she’s healed. In this specific scenario, the patient’s jaw had to be completely removed because of a severe and progressive infection and the alternatives to this breakthrough surgery would have had been risky on a patient with advanced age. The doctors could have removed the damaged part of the mandible leaving the patient with a tiny bone with no function or they could have attempted to reconstruct the bone in an intensive surgery and prolonged hospital stay that would have been risky with the patient’s age and health. With this innovative procedure, a world of bone-replacements could be opened up — we can’t wait to see what titanium replacement the researchers at Hasselt take on next.