A 22 year old Dutch woman suffering from a condition which causes her skull to progressively grow thicker has had it replaced by a 3D printed plastic skull. The operation, giving the woman the world's first full 3D printed total skull transplant, was performed by neurosurgeons Dr Bon Verweij and Dr Marvick Muradin at University Medical Centre Utrecht in a 23 hour operation.
The condition had caused the woman's skull to grow to around 5cm thick at the time of surgery, which is over three times its normal thickness. "The disease manifests itself in the beginning with severe headaches," said Dr Bon Verweij. "Over time, the increasing pressure on the brain from the thickening skull began to affect her eyesight and coordination. It was only a matter of time before other crucial brain functions became compromised and she would die."
The doctors at the hospital used a 3D printer to make a perfect copy of the patient's skull during a three month long procedure. An Australian company which specialises in 3D printing worked closely with the medical doctors.
"Implants used to be made by hand in the operating theatre using a sort of cement which was far from ideal," explained Verweij. "Using 3D printing we can make one to the exact size. This not only has great cosmetic advantages, but patients' brain function often recovers better than using the old method."
Although parts of skulls have been swapped out in the past, this procedure is the first time an entire cranium has been replaced in a patient. The patient is said to be now living symptom-free, with her eyesight fully restored and she is back at work. The operation was completed three months ago. Verweij commented that it was now virtually impossible to tell that his patient has had surgery. The techniques learnt are expected to be valuable in future medical cases where skulls are damaged in accidents or by serious illness.
It's great to see another useful application of 3D printing technology like this to complement recent developments allowing 3D printing in metal, carbon fibre and confectionery.