The Biomedical Research Institute BIOMED located at Hasselt University in Belgium, in conjunction with Orbis Centre in Sittard-Geleen, Xilloc Medical BV located at Maastricht University and Cam bioceramics BV in Leiden have managed to successfully remove the lower jaw of an elderly woman and replace it with one created with 3D printing. While artificial parts built via 3D printing are nothing new in the world of surgery and reconstructive surgery in particular, nothing as sophisticated as a lower jaw had ever been successfully implanted into an elderly patient through such a process.
As any anesthesiologist will tell you, lengthy surgery options are usually off the table for elderly patients. Despite intense investment into ways to lower the risks of going under in old age, Huntingdon Life Sciences and other researchers have been unable to find ways for the process to be safer. Anesthesia is unkind to the elder heart and brain, and surgeries lasting longer than four hours put the patient at high risk for cardiac arrest and irreversible coma. It's apparent then that reconstructive surgeries – which are some of the longest processes to occur in the operating room – present unique challenges with the patient is a senior citizen.
This is why 3D-printed artificial bone structure is a critical accomplishment in the world of reconstructive surgery – a process that used to take 10-12 hours can be done in a third of that time. By digitally mapping out the contours and crevices of a patient's bone structure and creating an artificial version prior to surgery, the operation itself consists of nothing more than “remove and replace”, inherent complexities of reconstructive surgery put aside.
Those from Xilloc Medical BV involved in this successful lower jaw-replacement surgery previously made headway with the world's very first 3D printed customized implant last year – a section of skull for a patient born with a cranial defect. While the patient was young, long-term surgery was not an option. Due to the success of the 3D print option, Xilloc Medical BV won the 2011 Shell LiveWIRE Award for Innovation, netting the team a grant worth 10,000 Euro.
Thus, it would seem as though 3D printed implants for reconstructive surgery purposes stand to benefit an extraordinary number of potential patients, both young and old, in the years to come.