A young woman has had her entire skull replaced with a 3D-printed plastic one in the Netherlands.
The 22-year-old woman was suffering from a condition that thickens the bone structure, particularly that of the skull. The thickening put the brain under increasing pressure, initially causing severe headaches, then loss of vision and motor coordination impairments.
The 23-hour operation was carried out by a team of surgeons from Utrecht University Medical Centre in the Netherlands led by Dr Bon Verweij who chose 3D printing to design a new thinner skull for the patient.
For this, they used a scanner to create a 3D model of the skull’s entire bone structure. The skull was then printed from the 3D file by Anatomics, an Australian firm specialised in creating implants using new technologies. Few details have been released about the specific technique used, but the implant seems to have been designed with an SLS (selective laser sintering) type printer out of a transparent polyamide.
While this replacement of the entire top part of the skull with a 3D printed implant is a worldwide first, it is not the first of its kind. A precedent was set in a similar case last year in the US where three-quarters of a patient's skull was replaced by a 3D printed implant. In that particular case, though, the material used was not transparent but an opaque thermoplastic called PEEK that withstands high sterilisation temperatures. With the Dutch patient, while transparency was not deliberately chosen for the implant, it does have advantages. Being able to observe the brain and its entire vascular system in this way offers interesting prospects.
Four months after surgery, the young woman is doing well, says the surgical team. “This has major advantages, both medically and cosmetically. The woman has her eyesight back, and has no more complaints. She is back to work and it is nearly impossible to see she was ever operated on.”