For the first time in history, doctors have replaced a patient’s skull by a 3D printed version. A 22-year-old woman from The Netherlands suffered from a rare disease, which made her skull grow. She knew something had to be done to make her survive, so she went for a risky operation, which lasted as many as 23 hours. The operation at UMC Utrecht however turned out to become a great success, making it the first time in history a patient’s skull was replaced by a 3D printed counterpart.
The woman suffered from a disease, which made her skull grow, causing many headaches and a reduction in her visibility. Without this operation, her skull would have continued to grow, leading to a loss of brain functions, which would eventually have killed her. A tragic disease, but who would have thought a printer would safe her life?
Probably not many, except for Bon Verweij and his medical team at UMC Utrecht. Verweij has already been working with 3D printing techniques for a longer time, before setting up this operation. His team is working together with an Australian 3D printing company, which used a 3D model of the skull created The Netherlands to print out a plastic version of the cranium. The 3D model was created using CT-scans.
It’s definitely not their first skull transplant ever, as the team has a lot of experience in replacing skull parts. It’s also not the first time in history a skull was replaced by a 3D printed version. Last year an American team succeeded to replace 75 percent of a skull by a 3D printed version. However, those earlier operations were only about replacing parts of a skull and now new techniques enabled the Dutch to take the next step and to replace an entire skull for a 3D printed version. “With 3D printing we can customise implants to their exact size”, says Verweij. “It has great cosmetic and medicinal benefits. Patient’s brain function often recovers better than the traditional methods.”
The team waited three months to tell the press about this operation, because they wanted to be sure it would work out in the long run. The woman now has her sight back, and the operation undoubtedly succeeded. The team thinks this kind of operation could also work for patient’s with bone cancer, victims from a car accident and people with other head injuries.
So if you would ever suffer from something like this in the future, then you might want to check out whether 3D printing can help you out. But – let’s hope there will never be a situation like that for any of us.
Image credits: UMC Utrecht.