These days, 3-D printing can all manner of unexpected things, from prosthetic noses and baby monitors to floating drink holders and military equipment. But a Dutch hospital has raised the stakes: Doctors at the University Medical Center Utrecht successfully replaced the entire skull of a 22-year-old woman with a machine-printed plastic version.
Previously, the doctors had created skull fragments, but this was the first time anyone had ever created a complete cranium. The woman in question suffered from a condition that caused the bone in her skull to thicken abnormally, resulting in severe headaches, loss of vision and, potentially, death.
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“The condition initially manifests itself in severe headaches,” said brain surgeon Dr. Bon Verweij. “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.”
But several months after the 23-hour operation, she both regained her sight and returned to work.
The hospital hoped to use a similar approach to reconstruct skulls damaged in accidents or by tumors, as well as to treat other bone deformities.
“It’s now three months after the operation. The patient has fully regained her vision, she has no more complaints, she’s gone back to work and there are almost no traces that she had any surgery at all,” Verweij said.