In what has been called the first operation of its kind, an 83-year-old woman in the Netherlands has been fitted with a custom-made artificial jaw that was created by a 3D printer.
The titanium implant, which weighs less than 4 ounces, was created by taking a CT scan of the woman's lower jaw and duplicating it with a 3D printer that lays down titanium powder instead of ink. The printer followed the pattern of the woman's jaw bone layer by layer, fusing the titanium powder in place with heat. In just a couple hours, the 3D replica was ready.
"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, a medical applications engineer with Layerwise, a specialized metal-parts manufacturer, told the BBC.
The woman, who has not been named, reportedly suffered a serious jaw infection that made reconstruction surgery too risky. The creation of the artificial jaw and the surgery to implant it are considered a major step forward for the use 3D technology in medicine.
"Computer technology will cause a veritable revolution in the medical world. We just need to learn to work with it," Professor Jules Poukens of Biomedical Research Institute (BIOMED) at Hasselt University in Belgium said in a statement. "Doctors and engineers together around the design computer and the operation table: that's what we call being truly innovative."
Just one day after the surgery, which took place in June 2011, the woman could move her jaw and speak, according to Xilloc, the company that made the implant. Xilloc, Layerwise and BIOMED were jointly awarded the grant of best innovation in the field of 3D printing at last week's RapidPro conference in Veldhoven, Netherlands.