A team of researchers from Belgium and the Netherlands has replaced a patient's lower jaw with a 3D printed model. After an 83-year old woman was diagnosed with progressive osteomyelitis, an infection affecting almost her entire mandible, and doctors surmised that removal of the infected area was the only way forward. Removal would have left her with a non-functional jaw, which would require highly complex microsurgical reconstruction via transplantation of bone and soft tissues.

Due to the patient's age, this wasn't an ideal solution, so the team collaborated with Xilloc, a company specializing in tailor-made implants, and LayerWise, a metal additive manufacturer, to create a 3D printed prosthetic jaw. The team used traditional computer-aided design (CAD) software to model the implant, but when it came to constructing it, they needed to think outside the box.

Consumer-facing 3D printers commonly use materials such as plastic or resin to sculpt their creations, which would have been unsuitable for surgical application, so LayerWise used powdered titanium. A high-precision laser selectively heated the metal powder particles, fusing each layer together without the need for glue. Afterwards, a bioceramic coating was applied to the prosthetic to prevent the patient's body from rejecting the implant. The whole manufacturing process took just a couple of hours, and while at 107g, it weighs a little more than a 'natural' lower jaw, the team says it hasn't caused any problems.

Because of the (comparatively) non-invasive nature of the surgery, the patient regained full mandibular movement the day after the operation, allowing her to speak and swallow normally. This is quite an advance in the field of prosthetics - the prospect of tailoring artificial bones to individual patients needs, all within hours, is something worth getting excited about.

Note: the video below contains (still) imagery of the prosthetic being implanted.