A team of doctors in The Netherlands performed successful jaw transplant surgery recently that showcases just how far the power and potential of 3D printing has come as key asset in medical applications, particularly the design and development of custom prosthesis.
An 83-year-old woman suffering from a chronic bone infection received a lower jaw transplant of a 3D-printed jaw made out of titanium powder as opposed to undergoing reconstructive surgery, which the medical team deemed too risky because of her age. Using a 3D model of the patient's lower mandible, the medical team, in partnership with metal additive manufacturing provider LayerWise, constructed and 3D-printed a metal jaw implant structure that incorporates articulated joints and dedicated features, becoming one of the first complete patient-specific implants, according to officials.
A team of medical professionals successfully performed a jaw transplant using a 3D-printed, patient-specific prosthesis made out of titanium powder. (Source: LayerWise)
Additive manufacturing technology was a natural fit for this application because the process doesn't face any restrictions in terms of producing the complex lower jaw implant structure unlike other technologies, which could require multiple metalworking steps. In addition to LayerWise, the method was developed by the biomed research group at the University of Hasselt in collaboration with engineers from Xios Hogeschool, Xiloc Medical BV, and the University of Leuven. Maxillofacial surgeons from the Orbis Medisch Centrum Sittard-Geleen were also heavily involved.
Medical applications are one of the key areas where industry experts expect 3D printing technology to take off. Use of 3D printers and advanced 3D modeling software technology for producing dental structures and orthopedic prosthesis is becoming more commonplace, and there have been industry reports of 3D printers being used in making other body parts, including blood vessels, and growing new bones. There's even futuristic talk of replacing the metal powders commonly used in 3D printing with organic tissue and bone material, which would essentially function as the "ink" for the 3D printing process.
@Alex: I think your point about sterility related to 3D printed parts like this implant is not as acute given what we talked about before in that there is a long history of foreign implants used in orthopedics and other medical specialty areas. Thus, there is a process and best practices around ensuring these foreign substances are primed to live within the human body. The idea of 3D printing organs is a totally different animal, however. There, I think you raise some valid issues around challenges to come. My sense is we have a long way to go on that front.
This is a highly significant development, given the cases of necrotic jaw which have come to light, allegedly as a result of the use of Fosamax, a drug which was supposed to prevent osteoporosis but instead seems to have caused serious side effects. Thus is seems 3D printing will eventually join robotics and medical miniaturization (i.e., smaller data and diagnostic products) as new and valuable tools for doctors. My one question re 3D printed human parts are sterility and validation.
I wasn't sure whether that meant they had threads in the holes or that they would tap the holes later. Inserts normally require a titanium fitting that threads into the bone, which them infiltrates into the insert and holds it fast. Then a post threads into the insert. In any case, this is amazing technology.
Jon: The information from Layerwise is that they did create the 3D printed jaw with provisions to accomodate some sort of dental fixture. See text: "Furthermore, the mandible implant is equipped to directly insert dental bar and/or bridge implant suprastructures at a later stage."
The LayerWise site has many photos of parts manufactured with the same types of technologies used to create the jaw bone. I thought the powdered-metal component might need sintering or annealing after construction in the 3-D printer, but it seems as though the laser actually fuses the metal particles and the printed part needs no additional processing. I'd like to see some photos that show the crystalline structure of the metal to see how the metal particles form a single piece.
I wondered if the LayerWise jaw included threaded holes for inserts to the patient could have implants to replace teeth. Perhaps the threading took place in a separate step.
Medical technology developments will be self-sustaining as well. Unlike the space program, medical developments are aimed to solve specific physical problems (produce a jaw, grow a bladder). While some of the research may be state funded, the resulting technology will move into the marketplace.
It appears as though patients with nothing or very little to lose are volunteering for this kind of research. Unfortunately, there seems to be very little shortage of people in such a position that all they want is another go at a higher quality of life.
@Beth. Medical advances look like they will the space program of the coming decades. I thinjk the oh-wow advances will be in health. That will put enormous pressure on state-funded medicine, and it will probably extend both quality of life and life expectancy.
When researching this, I found several articles about the future of 3D printing to "print" human organs and body parts, using organic materials to "grow" body parts like blood vessels and other organs. Obviously, that's just in the research stage and likely still years, if not decades, away, but it still a very promising technology for advancing medical care far into the future.
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