3D printers are one of several technologies that makes it feel more and more like we are living in a Star Trek prequel. Just program in your object and the 3D printer will craft it for you out of plastic or metal. It’s mostly been used for creating fun things like robots and statuettes and nerdy pieces of home decor, but 3D printing technology has a great deal of potential to do other things. Things like recreate body parts to be used in reconstructive surgeries, as in the case of an 83-year-old Dutch woman who just received a custom, 3D printer-made replacement jaw.
The artificial jaw was created by a 3D printer that melted and sculpted metal powder, layer by layer, to precisely fit the woman’s bone structure, nerves, and muscles. The finished product was then covered with a bioceramic coating so that the older woman’s body wouldn’t reject it. It’s the first time such a patient-specific implant has been used in total lower jaw replacement, and the 3D printing method made it possible for them to create a high quality one quickly and relatively easily.
Her surgeons tell Discovery that the surgery went well and the woman recovered quickly – speaking soon after waking up from the anesthesia and speaking and swallowing normally the day after the surgery. The managing director of Layerwise (the company that made the implant) says that this speedy recovery time is just one of many potential benefits custom, 3D printed implants could hold for medical procedures. They “yield excellent form and function,” reduce surgery times, and even reduce the risk of complications (like rejection).
We’ll leave it up to you to decide if that’s a good thing or not.