Jaw replacement made using 3D printing

8 Feb 2012

Three-dimensional printing has been used to produce a surgical implant from titanium powder that can be fitted in a fifth of the time that reconstructive surgery would take, considerably reducing the risk to patients.

In June the implant was chosen for a jaw replacement operation in the Netherlands as the patient’s age meant reconstructive surgery was risky. Using a specific 3D printed part reduced the risk and should improve post-operative integration.

Having been digitally modelled to the patient the implant fitted perfectly, which meant the operation could proceed more quickly, but it also included several structural features that would promote regrowth around it. Articulated joints, cavities and grooves to promote muscle attachment and direct the growth of nerves and veins were all designed on a computer ready to be manufactured by a 3D printer.

The implant was built by LayerWise, a Belgian company specialising in metal additive manufacturing, using a process that recreates a 3D design layer-by-layer by heating and fusing titanium powder with a laser. It took a considerable number of layers to build up the new jaw bone but the process was actually remarkably quick, taking only a few hours.

LayerWise's medical applications engineer Ruben Wauthle told the BBC ‘each cross section was 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.’

The leader of the surgical team that fitted the implant revealed the operation was a success, saying 'shortly after waking up from the anaesthetics the patient spoke a few words, and the day after the patient was able to swallow again’

The success of the operation opens the door for greater use of 3D printing to create patient-specific implants and, if it can consistently reduce surgery time, the technique could reduce medical costs and waiting lists significantly.

Further information

BBC News: Transplant jaw made by 3D printer claimed as first

LayerWise website