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A Potential Medical Revolution: Body Parts from 3D printers

Posted By Prucia Buscell, Thursday, February 16, 2012

An 83-year old woman has had her infected lower jaw successfully replaced with a customized jaw bone produced with a three dimensional printer.

The Functional Morphology Research Group at the University of Hasselt in the Netherlands created the methods to develop the jawbone, working in collaboration with physicians, engineers and computer specialists from several universities. A BBC news story says the implant itself was built by LayerWise, a specialized metal-parts manufacturer also in the Netherlands.

The woman suffered from a long-lasting and rapidly spreading infection and large face wound, and her whole lower aw had to be removed to allow her maintain an open airway. Because of her age, doctors thought the 3D printer implant wild be less risky than lengthy surgery for microsurgical reconstruction. The medical team told the BBC it took four hours to attach the 3D printed mandible to her face, one fifth the time it would have taken fortraditional constructive surgery. One day after the surgery, performed June 11, 2011, the woman was able to speak, swallow and move her jaw normally. Doctors say it was the first operation of its kind.

An ABC news story has photos and video. The implant, a complex structure with articulated joints, and holes and grooves to promote muscle attachment and regrowth of nerves and veins, was made by first taking a CT scan of the woman's jaw. Once the implant was designed, it took only a few hours to print. A special 3D printer replicated the original using layers of titanium powder instead of ink.

The woman is scheduled for follow up surgery later this month. The BBC story explains a specially made dental bridge will be attached to the implant, and teeth will be screwed into holes previously created for their installation.

Researchers at many universities have been working on 3D printing to create organs and other body parts for implantation. Researchers at Washington State University last year showed that a ceramic scaffolds created by 3D printers could be used promote growth of new bone tissue. Other researchers have used 3D printing to develop artificial kidneys and bladders. 3D printing is discussed in two Complexity Matters blogs last year on March 10 and August 18

Professor Jukes Poukens, of the BIOMED Research Institute sat the University of Hasselt, predicts in a story on the university site: "Computer technology will cause a veritable revolution in the medical world. We just need to learn to work with it." He also asserts that the introduction of printed implants "can be compared to man's first venture on the moon: a cautious but firm step."

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