A 22-year-old woman from the Netherlands who suffers from a chronic bone disorder — which has increased the thickness of her skull from 1.5cm to 5cm, causing reduced eyesight and severe headaches — has had the top section of her skull removed and replaced with a 3D printed implant.
The operation was performed by a team of neurosurgeons at the University Medical Centre Utrecht and the university claims this is this first instance of a successful 3D printed cranium that has not been rejected by the patient.
The operation, which took 23 hours, was led by Dr Bon Verweij. The patient’s skull was so thick, that had the operation not been performed, serious brain damage or death may have occurred in the near future.
“It was only a matter of time before critical brain functions were compromised and she would die,” said Dr Verweij. Major surgery was inevitable, but prior to the 3D printing technique, there was no ideal effective treatment.
The skull was made specifically for the patient using an unspecified durable plastic. Since the operation, the patient has gained her sight back entirely, is symptom-free and back to work. It is not known whether the plastic will require replacing at a later date or if it will last a lifetime.
The lead surgeon had previous experience with 3D reconstructions of skulls, but such a large implant had never been accomplished before. “It is almost impossible to see that she’s ever had surgery,” said Dr Verweij in the university’s official statement.
It is hoped this technique can also be used for patients with other bone disorders or to repair severely damaged skulls after an accident or tumour.
The operation was carried out three months ago, but the hospital has only just released details of the surgery. Wired.co.uk got in touch with the university and will publish any further details we receive.