It might not be the adamantium Marvel’s most famous character is known for, but it’s just about as close as you can get to the fictional, indestructible metal alloy. A team of engineers and clincians at the University of Hasselt BIOMED Research Institute in Belgium have successfully used 3D printing techniques to create the world’s first titanium jaw. While we’re a far way off from the complete skeleton pioneered by the Weapon X program in comics, this is a significant step forward for the application of 3D implant printing technology, and the whole set of all 205 bones in the human body isn’t far behind.
“Computer technology will cause a veritable revolution in the medical world. We just need to learn to work with it,” Professor Jules Poukens said after the surgery. “Doctors and engineers together around the design computer and the operation table: that’s what we call being truly innovative.”
The recipient of this nearly indestructible mandible was an 83 year old woman who had her entire lower jaw removed in order to prevent the spread of osteomyelitis and retain an open airway and basic swallowing and chewing functions. The entire surgery lasted less than four hours and within one day of the operation the patient regained basic speech and swallowing functions.
The process of 3D printing allows engineers to spray layers of a material (in this case titanium, but plastics and other alloys are also used) on top of each other to build a solid 3D object. While 3D printing technology is by no means a new innovation, until now scientists have not been able to utilize it to create a bone replacement that could be tested in real patients.
You can check out more about the manufacturing process of 3D printing for the titanium mandible in the video below: