‘Please wait. Your jaw is now being printed.’

August 19, 2014

No, this is no joke. And neither is it so very far-fetched. With 3D technology, it's possible to produce implants for the human skeleton, such as a jaw or part of the skull. The technique has been developed on the Maastricht Health Campus by the Xilloc company.

It all starts with subjecting the patient to a tomographic scan – a 2D scan that displays sections of the body. This is then converted into 3D images using a computer, rather like an MRI scan. Xilloc uses these images to design a custom-made implant. Then the 3D printing can start. The materials used in the printer are titanium and various polymers. 22 patients at the Academic Hospital Maastricht have already received an implant produced by Xilloc.

Using a machine to reconstruct bones and then implanting these in the human body is nothing new, but with the 3D printer it can be done much quicker, more efficiently and more accurately. And the big advantage is that bones can be produced to exactly the right size. This means that the implants always fit and there is hardly any wastage. The patient needs fewer operations and these can be performed much faster.