3D printing has already been used in the medical field to produce lower jaw implants, prostheses and cells. In this instance, the skull was 3D-modeled and then printed as a single full piece that was able to be slotted and secured into place.
Dr. Bon Verweij of University Medical Center (UMC) Utrecht, whose team carried out the procedure, first had to familiarize himself with reconstructions and 3D printing, in particular of partial skull implants. Implants have often previously been used when part of a skull has been removed to reduce pressure on an patient's brain. Either the removed piece of skull or an implant is used to fill the gap once the situation has improved.
Verweij says that cement implants are not always a good fit, however, and that 3D printing can now ensure that the required components are an exact fit. "This has major advantages, not only cosmetically but also because patients often have better brain function compared with the old method," he explained.
Verweij worked with an Australian company called Anatomics to produce the replacement skull. Anatomics produces custom-made implants and surgical models for the medical profession and specializes in 3D printing. Not only was the procedure the first of its kind, but it was critical for the patient.
"The thickening of the skull puts the brain under increasing pressure," said Verwei. "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. So intensive surgery was inevitable, but until now there was no effective treatment for such patients."
The surgery, only just announced, was carried out three months ago and was a success. According to Verweij, the patient has fully regained her vision and has no more complaints, which has allowed her to return to work with almost no trace of any surgery. The work undertaken on the procedure means that UMC Utrecht is now is a position to carry out other similar work.
The video below shows the procedure, and does contain footage of the operation so those of a sensitive nature might not wish to view. English subtitles are available via the video controls.
Source: UMC Utrecht