Surgeons at the University Medical Center at Utrecht University in The Netherlands have successfully replaced a woman’s skull with a 3-D printed replica.
Led by brain surgeon Bon Verweij, MD, the surgical team labored 23 hours in the operating room to replace the woman’s skull with one made of acrylic. Her new skull was 3-D printed by an Australian company, Anatomics (St. Kilda, Victoria) that specializes in the custom 3-D printing of cranial and maxillofacial implants based on the patient’s own CT and MRI image data. Verweij performed the operation with assistance from orthodontic surgeon Marvick Muradin, MD.
The woman had a condition that causes bones to thicken, particularly in the skull. This had caused her skull to thicken to almost three times its normal thickness. which was putting pressure on her brain.
“The condition initially manifests itself in severe headaches,” Verweij explained in a hospital 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. So intensive surgery was inevitable, but until now there was no effective treatment for such patients.”
Verweij had extensive experience with partial cranial implants in reconstructive surgery and in accident victims. In some cases of head trauma, the brain swells up and a portion of the skull must be temporarily removed to relieve the pressure on the brain. The portion removed is later replaced, or replaced with an implant.
“We used to create an implant by hand in the operating theater using a kind of cement, but those implants did not have a very good fit,” said Verweij. “Now we can use 3D printing to ensure that these 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.”
Three months after the operation Verweij says all went well. “The patient has fully regained her vision,” he said “She has no more complaints. She’s gone back to work and there are almost no traces that she had any surgery at all.”
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