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3D printer produces new jaw for woman

In what's being called a first-of-a-kind operation, surgeons implant an entire titanium jaw made with a precision 3D printing technique.

Surgeons decided to replace an entire jaw of an elderly woman made using a 3D printing technique.

An elderly woman has received a replacement titanium jaw, an operation participants say demonstrates the potential of patient-specific body implants.

Belgian company LayerWise today said that it produced an entire jaw using additive manufacturing, a technique that allows fabricators to make an item directly from a CAD drawing. The transplant demonstrates that precision 3D printing can be effective for both bones and organ implants, the company said.

The method selectively heats metal powder particles with a laser to construct an object layer by layer. Using this method allows LayerWise to create complex shapes that a custom made for patients and don't require glue or multiple parts.

"It used a laser beam to melt successive thin layers of titanium powder together to build the part," Ruben Wauthle, LayerWise's medical applications engineer, told the BBC. "This was repeated with each cross section melted to the previous layer. It took 33 layers to build 1mm of height, so you can imagine there were many thousand layers necessary to build this jawbone."

The woman who received the titanium jaw suffered from progressive osteomyelitis, which led to the decision to replace the entire bone. The operation was a success. The implant returned the woman's jaw line and allowed her to speak and swallow normally again, according to LayerWise.

"The new treatment method is a world premiere because it concerns the first patient-specific implant in replacement of the entire lower jaw," Professor Dr. Jules Poukens, who was part of a team that worked on the implant, said in a statement.

The implant, which is coated with a bioceramic coating over the metal, is made with cavities to promote muscle and nerve attachment.