An 83-year-old woman has been implanted with the world’s first “3D printer-created jaw”. Using cutting-edge laser manufacturing techniques, doctors and metal experts were able to build up layers of titanium to form a custom metal jawbone to exactly fit her face. The metal jawbone was then inserted into her lower jaw, replacing a large section of bone that was destroyed by a chronic infection.
The technique of 3D printing has been used to build prototype products for some time, but in recent years scientists have begun experimenting with the medical possibilities offered by the process. In this case, a specialist metalwork company called Layerwise was able to translate 3D bone scans into a custom jaw. The company had previously used the process to make bone-shaped prostheses and dental implants. To make a full jawbone, the implant team had to overcome a number of challenges, such as how to encourage muscles to attach to the implant and how to incorporate the nerves necessary for normal movement of the jaw.
While 3D printing is still an experimental medical technique, scientists are currently devising ways in which they might use it to produce whole organs, which are either “printed” by sandwiching layer after layer of living cells on top of each other or created by building scaffolds for cells to grow on.