Bio-printing--the 3-D printing of biological tissues--is one of the most exciting spaces where this new kind of fabrication has seemingly limitless room to grow. And while we didn’t quite get to that 3-D printed liver or kidney that is the holy grail of bioprinting this year, we did see 3-D printing make an impact on reconstructive medical science via the first-ever 3-D fabricated jaw transplant (technically the procedure happened in 2011, but it wasn’t announced until earlier this year).
An 83-year-old European woman who had developed a chronic bone infection in her entire lower mandible had her natural jawbone swapped for a new laser-sintered titanium one custom fabricated not merely to match her biological jaw but specially designed with dimples to increase surface area and holes and grooves to promote muscle and nerve attachment. One four-hour surgery later (one-fifth the time a conventional reconstructive surgery would’ve taken) she was fitted with her brand new, custom-built jaw. She spoke her first words with it while still in post-op recovery, and went home four days later.