It’s not quite a world first, but South African doctors have successfully completed jawbone replacement surgery using 3D printed titanium bones in what’s believed to be only the second and third time such a technique has been used.
The procedures were carried out at the Kimberly Hospital on Wednesday, by a team from the dental surgery department led by Dr Cules van den Heever from the University of Pretoria and the Central University of Technology’s (CUT) Centre of Rapid Prototyping and Manufacturing.
CUT is describing the operations as groundbreaking and says that patients are recovery well, according to the university. One patient’s jaw had been disfigured by cancer, while the second patient had broken an existing steel implant.
The new jaws were created using a laser sintering process, in which lasers are fired into a bowl of titanium dust, which hardens at the focal points into a 3D sculpture.
Mark Cooke, a technology consultant for C5 technologies who was previously the CEO of a large health trust in the UK, says that 3D printing is the most important emerging technology in healthcare today.
“Most exciting technology is 3D printing,” he says, “Because it’s something that can be done at all levels, from nanotechnologies up to muscles and teeth. Oral health problems are a huge problem all over the world.”
Heidi Milkert, from 3DPrint.com, points out that laser sintering titanium implants costs around 20% of the price of traditional implants milled from a single block of metal, largely because there’s a lot less material wastage. The cost of the 3D printed implants are reckoned to be around R20 000 each, compared to R100 000 for milled ones.
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.