3D printed skull replacement implanted for the first time ever

The patient suffered from a rare bone condition that would have killed her if left unchecked

A Dutch hospital has successfully performed the first operation replacing a patient’s skull with a 3D-printed version.

The 22-year-old patient suffered from a rare disorder that caused the bone in her skull to thicken abnormally, from the normal 1.5cm to 5cm thick.

The condition gave the woman poor eyesight, severe headaches and the inability to perform facial expressions, with doctors saying the pressure on her brain would have certainly killed her in time.

The operation took 23 hours to perform and was led by Dr Bon Verweij from the University Medical Centre Utrecht.  3D-printers have previously been used to replace skull fragments, but this is the first time such an extensive area of the cranium - nearly a full hemisphere – has been transplanted.

The 3D-printed skull in place “Implants used to be made by hand in the operating theatre using a sort of cement which was far from ideal," Dr Verweij told Dutch News.

"Using 3D printing we can make one to the exact size. This not only has great cosmetic advantages, but patients' brain function often recovers better than using the old method."

The hospital has waited three months to announce the success of the operation, after checking to see that the patient made a full recovery.

"The woman has her eyesight back. She is back to work and it is nearly impossible to see she was ever operated on," said Verweij.

Dr Bon Verweij and his team from UMC Utrecht perform the operation. Credit: Holladse Hoogte/PA Images This is a remarkable use of 3D-printing in medicine, but it is only a single example of how the technology’s capacity to quickly and cheaply prototype custom parts is helping patients all over the world.

Doctors are working on 3D-printing everything from prosthetics such as noses and eyes to human skin that replicates not skin tone of the patient but also the surface textures, including wrinkles and veins.

For a closer look at the successful skull transplant performed in Holland you can watch the video below, but be warned: there's graphic images and a fair bit of brain matter on display.

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