3D-printed plastic skull saved woman’s life

For the first time ever surgeons in The Netherlands replaced most of a human’s skull with a 3D-printed plastic one. The operation became necessary for the 22-year-old patient as she suffered from severe headaches due to a thickening of her skull which put the brain under increasing pressure. The woman slowly started to lose her vision and her motor coordination, and it was only a matter of time before other essential brain functions would have been impaired. Intensive surgery was inevitable to save the woman’s life.  

© UMC Utrecht

In the past, materials like cement were used to replace a part of the skull when necessary, but those implants did not fit very well. With the new 3D-printing technique, the surgeons were able to place a new skull with the perfect size. 3D-printers have previously been used to produce skull fragments but manufacturing a whole skull top was a very first experience worldwide.    

A few months after the surgery, the former patient made a full recovery and is back at work. The Dutch university now plans to help other patients with similar conditions. The 3D technique can also be used for patients with other bone deformities, for example to reconstruct a skull being severely damaged in an accident or due to tumors.  

 This remarkable use of 3D-printing in medicine is only one of many: thanks to this technology, doctors around the world can quickly and cheaply create replacement parts of the human body. Research is currently going on not only to print prosthetics such as noses or eyes in 3D, but also human skin that replicates the surface texture, including wrinkles and veins.  
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