3D printing breakthrough gives cancer patient new jaw

The 68-year-old's jaw is lighter, breathable and more realistic than his previous prosthetic

July 05, 2016

The 3D printed jaw was produced in less time than it took to make a comparable clay prosthetic. (Submitted by Formlabs)

A 68-year-old Indiana man who lost part of his face to cancer can now smile again after getting a new 3D printed jaw from the Indiana University School of Dentistry.

Retired mechanic Shirley Anderson received the prosthetic after a long fight with tongue cancer that dates back to 1997. The radiation therapy eventually caused him to lose his mandible and Adam's apple, which in turn left him without a chin.  

Before the 3D printed jaw, surgeons attempted to reconstruct his mandible using a titanium bar and bone from his fibula, but that didn't work. A prosthesis made of plaster and silicone was also tried but it was uncomfortable and heavy to the point that it would slip down. 


That's when Dr. Travis Bellicchi, of the Indiana University School of Dentistry, considered a digital solution.

Bellicchi got access to digital sculpting and mouldmaking tools, and the 3D printer, through a media arts and sciences professor. Instead of going through the traditional method of using plaster to get an impression of Anderson's face, he used a digital model obtained through a CT scan. With the help of a student, he was able to design a prosthesis in less time than it would have taken with clay.  

The result was a 3D printed mould that is lighter, breathable and more realistic. 

Anderson is just one of many who have benefited from 3D printed body parts as of late. Doctors were able to practice on a 3D printed replica of a girl with a deformed face before performing her surgery in 2015. And a team of Canadian researchers used a 3D printer to make artificial legs for Ugandans.

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