Advancements in medicine are taking place at rates we have never seen before. Whether it’s IBM’s Watson computer taking advantage of its insanely powerful computational abilities to crunch troves of medical data, or advances in the 3D printing of medical implants, the lives of those who may be less fortunate are about to get quite a bit better.
Just a little over one year ago we saw medical history made when surgeons transplanted the first 3D printed jaw into an 83 year old woman in the Netherlands. Since then we have seen numerous other types of implants surgically placed within patients, which had been 3D printed.
Today we got word out of South African that the second and third 3D printed jaws ever, have been transplanted into two different patients who had been suffering with facial disfigurations after battling cancer. The procedures were done by Dr Cules van den Heever, who is well known in the field and has extensive experience implanting prosthetic jaws.
The first patient was a 31-year-old man from Kimberley, South Africa. Tumor growth had left major deformities within his lower jaw bone. The second patient was a 20-year-old man from Kuruman, South Africa, who needed a replacement implant after breaking his steel implant some time ago, which was put in after he had damage due to cancer.
“Cancer is a terrible disease affecting many people,” stated van den Heever. “More than 500 new cases of head and neck cancer are diagnosed every year in the Northern Cape alone. These cancers causes serious disfiguration, negatively affecting patients’ living quality. The idea with these implants is to fix the facial contour and restore normal function and appearance.”
The jaws were 3D printed with a titanium powder, via a laser sintering process after being modeled with Materialise’s Mimics, 3-matic and Magics software, by The Central University of Technology (CUT) in Bloemfontein, South Africa. Once printed, they were exact fits, and a team of five specialists then performed the implantation. Because of the fact that the jaws were custom built, layer by layer, specifically for each patient, the surgery time was cut back significantly, and a tremendous amount of money was saved. Due to the use of 3D printed titanium, each surgery cost just 20% of what a traditional jaw implant surgery would have cost. Using traditional CNC milling to manufacture a jaw implant wastes approximately 80% of the titanium block used, whereas 3D printing wastes almost no titanium at all.
It is amazing that this technology has yet to be adopted on a larger scale. The investment costs of the printers would pay for themselves after just a few surgeries. Now that it has been over a year between the first 3D printed jaw implant and the second/third, it will be interesting to watch for how much time elapses before the next.
Let us know your thoughts on this amazing use of 3D printing in the 3D printed jaw forum thread on 3DPB.com.