A Dutch university hospital has successfully given a 22-year-old woman a plastic skull, made with the help of a 3D printer.
Utrecht University’s UMC says the operation is a world first.
The woman needed the operation because her skull was becoming thicker, compressing her brain and damaging its function. Her cranium had become 5cm thick, while a normal skull is up to around 1.5cm.
Her medical team, led by neurologist Ben Verweij, decided to replace her cranium with a plastic one, produced by a specialist Australian firm. The operation took 23 hours but was a complete success, the hospital says.
‘Implants used to be made by hand in the operating theatre using a sort of cement which was far from ideal,’ Verweij said. ‘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 procedure took place three months ago but the woman has now gone back to work and is symptom free, Verweij said.
The hospital says the technique can be used with patients who have other bone problems or to help recovery after people have suffered serious skull injuries.
Other hospitals have placed skull implants successfully in patients but this is the first time a complete cranium has been replaced, the surgeon said.