Experts from the University of Hasselt in Belgium have helped build a 3D printed lower jaw bone for replacement surgery in an 83-year-old woman, the Dutch language news Web site DePers reported Feb. 2. It's not only the first 100% customized implant to replace an entire jaw, but the first time a 3D printed prosthetic has been used, the report said. It was made by printing out the mandible with titanium powder. The method was developed by Research Institute BIOMED at Hasselt University, in cooperation with surgeons from the Orbis Medical Center Sittard-Geleen and companies Xilloc Medical BV, Maastricht and Cam bioceramics BV of Leiden.

Computer technology will cause a revolution in the medical world, Professor Jules Poukens of Biomed told DePers.

In the future doctors and engineers together will design computers (to assist) the operating table.This is really innovative.

The woman's lower jaw had become terribly infected and doctors chose not to use traditional methods. Normally, 20 hours of reconstructive surgery are needed, but that was thought to be too dangerous considering the patient's age. Furthermore, it usually takes a few days to build a customized implant, so the 3D printing method was used instead. A 3D printer can lay down the titanium powder in layers, and combined with a laser that fuses the particles can build the implant in only hours. It's less costly, less labor intensive and uses less material, though the implant is a bit heavier than a human jaw bone. Doctors performed the surgery in June 2011, and just one day later, the woman began swallowing and even talking.

Even though the 3D printer used was a custom built machine for doctors, there are 3D printers available for consumers as well. Hobbyists and industrial users both use the materials printers for things like footwear, architecture, jewelry and civil engineering. One example is the MakerBot Replicater from MakerBot industries. It costs around $1,800 and uses natural ABS or PLA plastic to create designs loaded onto the device from an SD card or through a USB connection. Tell us in the comments if you'd trust a 3D printed implant to be used on you or a family member.  

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