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3D-printed face implant gets FDA approval

FDA gives the nod to a 3D-printed facial implant that can be customized for individual patients in need of facial-reconstruction surgery.

Facial implants
The OsteoFab implant next to a render of how the implant can be used. Oxford Performance Materials

The world of 3D printing continues its inevitable march into the land of mainstream medical treatments. Oxford Performance Materials made news last year when it created a 3D-printed implant to replace 75 percent of a patient's skull. The success of that operation laid the groundwork to move on to other bones, culminating in the recent FDA approval of Oxford's OsteoFab Patient-Specific Facial Device, a customizable implant for facial reconstruction.

The biocompatible implants behave mechanically like real bone. The true revolution here is the ability to create pieces to match an individual patient's specific anatomy in a way that reduces the overall cost of the complex procedures required to surgically reconstruct a face after injury. The implants can be created very quickly, allowing a patient to get into surgery sooner rather than later.

"With the clearance of our 3D printed facial device, we now have the ability to treat these extremely complex cases in a highly effective and economical way, printing patient-specific maxillofacial implants from individualized MRI or CT digital image files from the surgeon," said Scott DeFelice, CEO of Oxford Performance Materials, in a statement. "This is a classic example of a paradigm shift in which technology advances to meet both the patient's needs and the cost realities of the overall healthcare system."

Oxford's 3D-printed cranial implants also have FDA approval and could potentially be combined with the facial implants into a single device for treating severe cases. The facial implants have not yet been used in the US, but Oxford said the implants are now available to doctors and hospitals.

From DIY fingertips to airway splints that help babies breathe, 3D printing has provided some significant advances for dealing with tricky medical problems. Craniums and facial bones are just the beginning for what can be done with materials and methods like Oxford uses for its OsteoFab devices. We may soon see FDA approval for other bones, like knee caps, hips, and even small bones in the fingers and hands.

It's all a part of a growing wave that could make 3D printers just as common as MRI machines in doctors' tool chests.