In December, I discussed how Washington State University scientists had developed a way to create new bones using 3-D printing technology.
The only problem? The scientists don’t think the technology will be ready for humans for at least another decade.
Not to worry, though.
Luckily – for the excessively accident prone among us – it looks like we won’t need to wait that long to get replacement bones printed on-demand after all.
Because Belgium-based LayerWise – along with a team of scientists at the Biomedical Research Institute at Hasselt University – has built a 3-D printed jaw out of titanium. And it’s been successfully implanted in an 83-year-old woman.
A Different Take on 3-D Printing
LayerWise develops metal parts using a process similar to other 3-D printing companies like MakerBot. Meaning its process starts with a highly detailed 3-D schematic of the object.
But during construction, LayerWise doesn’t build objects by extruding “ink” layer by layer. Instead, cross sections of the design are laid out using the material beforehand. For the jawbone, these single layers are made from a titanium powder.
At that point, it’s sent to the “printer,” which involves fusing the titanium layers together using lasers.
The process might be complex. But the method allows for incredible precision, given that each millimeter of the jawbone is made out of 33 layers of titanium. And amazingly, the actual printing only takes a few hours.
But the question is: Precision or not, is it able to deliver a jawbone that’s actually useable?
From Jawbones to Full Skeletons?
After construction, it only took surgeons four hours to implant the jawbone. According to the BBC, that’s “a fifth of the time required for traditional reconstructive surgery.”
Better yet, the patient was able to speak immediately after coming out of her anesthetic slumber. She was only in the hospital for four days following the procedure, too. Not bad.
And although the new addition gives her jaw about 30% more heft, the doctors expect her to adjust to the change easily enough.
Of course, a process this advanced must come with a hefty price tag, right?
Remarkably, the procedure could end up costing less than traditional reconstructive surgery.
As Ruben Wauthle, LayerWise’s medical applications engineer, told the BBC:
“The advantages are that the surgery time decreases because the implants perfectly fit the patient, and hospitalization time also lowers… All [of which is capable of] reducing medical costs.”
In other words, there’s no stopping this technology from printing bone replacements of all kinds in the coming years.
With these combined technologies, scientists could soon “print” entire humans from scratch – something that would no doubt attract a firestorm of investment activity.
So those companies are certainly worthy of a spot on your watch list.
Do you have your own take on the latest 3-D printing innovations – or perhaps a different company you’ve been eyeing in the industry? Let us know by dropping by our Facebook or Google+ pages, or leaving a comment below.