Belgian researchers have created a 3D-printed titanium lower jaw implant which has transformed the life of a pensioner whose jawbone had been completely destroyed by disease. The 83-year-old woman suffered from a severe infection known as osteomyelitis but now, thanks to modern technology, she has a new jaw and a new lease on life.
This titanium jaw implant promises to revolutionise bone replacement surgery. In a surgical first, Belgian doctors say an implant like this was used on an 83-year-old woman last summer. The woman’s lower jawbone had been destroyed by osteomyelitis infection but within hours of the four-hour operation she was able to eat and talk.
Doctors from Belgian company Biomed, the medical research unit of Hasselt University, used an MRI machine to scan a copy of her jawbone. Metal manufacturers LayerWise fed the image through a 3D printing system in which a precision laser beam transformed fine titanium powder into a patient-specific implant.
LayerWise Managing Director, Dr. Peter Mercelis says it took just two days to manufacture:
“Technology has the huge advantage that is perfectly suited to create individualised pieces. And you do not need large series of ten-thousands of parts to make it economically feasible and there’s a large patient group that could benefit from a personalised implant. Because now the surgeons have to take implants off the shelf and they are only available in a certain number of sizes and they are not tailored to fit the individual patient.”
Jaw prosthetics are usually manufactured from a mold, but surgery takes 20 hours, leaving patients hospitalised for months and unable to feed themselves. The implant’s success stems from titanium’s impeccable compatibility with the body. There’s no risk of the implant being rejected by the body of the patient.
The technology opens other doors in the world of medicine, according to Professor Ivo Lambrichts of Biomed:
“We could use the same technique, for like, for instance for hip prosthesis or knee prosthesis or elbow prosthesis and also to use this technique for a vascular surgery. I mean to have a new heart valve it could be printed and those printed valves could be co-cultured with cells to have a new heart valve.”
The first recipient of the pioneering surgery has asked to remain anonymous. Next week she will take the final step toward a complete recovery: a new set of teeth.
Story by Jim Drury, Reuters