In a worldwide first, Dutch surgeons have successfully implanted a custom 3D-printed skull on a patient. The 22-year-old woman suffered from a condition that thickens bone structure and ultimately would have killed her.
"The condition initially manifests itself in severe headaches," Dr. Bon Verweij of the University Medical Center (UMC) Utrecht said in a press release. "The thickening of the skull puts the brain under increasing pressure. Ultimately, she slowly lost her vision and started to suffer from motor coordination impairment. It was only a matter of time before other essential brain functions would have been impaired and she would have died," said Verweij. Until this procedure, there was no effective treatment for this condition, he added.
Under certain circumstances when the brain swells up after an accident, for example, part of the skull can be temporarily removed to reduce pressure on the brain. The part is later reintroduced or replaced by an implant fabricated manually in the operating theater, but those implants do not have a very good fit, explained Verweij. The use of 3D printing ensures an exact fit and can result in better brain function compared with the use of conventional technology.
The 3D-printed skull was manufactured by Australian company Anatomics.
It has now been almost three months since the procedure, and the woman has regained her vision and is free of all other symptoms, said Verweij. "It's almost impossible to see that she has ever had surgery."
This technique can also be used for patients with other bone deformities and to reconstruct skulls that have been severely damaged in an accident or by a tumor.
The video, in Dutch with English subtitles (select English captions), shows the procedure. Caution: it's not for the squeamish.