A 3D-Printed Skull and Other Amazing Implants

The 3D-printed skull implanted in the Netherlands is just one of the increasingly complex transplant parts created with 3D printing.

Advances in 3D printing continue to amaze us. A 3D-printed complete skull has been successfully implanted in a 22-year-old woman in the Netherlands by brain surgeon Dr. Bon Verweij of the University Medical Center Utrecht. The patient went back to work three months after the surgery — amazing! According to NBC News, “[T]he 23-hour surgery took place 3 months ago at University Medical Center Utrecht. The hospital announced details of the groundbreaking operation this week and said the patient, a 22-year-old woman, is doing just fine.”

The custom acrylic (polymethylmethacrylate) implant used for this revolutionary surgery was made by Anatomics. In addition to custom-made implants, the Australian medical device company specializes in surgical BioModels, an important tool for practice, planning, and navigation through a complicated surgery:

BioModels can assist with the diagnosis of the condition, allow precise planning of the sequence of surgery and can be sterilised and used intraoperatively as a surgical navigation tool. Since surgeons can rehearse incisions, create drill guides, measure grafts, and fit surgical resections before they operate, theatre and surgery time can be reduced. Other benefits include shortened exposure to anaesthetics for patients and decreased blood loss. Research performed in Australia, Europe and North America has validated the benefits of surgical BioModels.

Most Complete Yet

Skull replacement surgeries using 3D-printed polymer parts have been performed before, but never on this scale. The closest to it was last year’s 75 percent skull replacement with a 3D-printed implant made of polyetherketoneketone (PEKK) thermoplastic polymer. The implant was produced by Oxford Performance Materials (OPM) and received patient-specific cranial device 510(k) approval from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

PEKK polymer has been shown to be biocompatible and osteoconductive, i.e., it promotes bone cell attachment and activity. It is used for 3D-printed implants that substitute cranial, maxillofacial, and other non-load-bearing bones, such as those in the upper extremities.

Use Dictates Material

What other materials are used to 3D-print medical devices and implants? If an implant is needed temporarily, biodegradable polymers are the best. For example, polycaprolactone has been used to make a 3D printed airway splint, saving a baby’s life. Polylactide and alginate polymers can be used to 3D-print bone scaffolds, seeded with stem cells that aid the growth of new bone.

Natural hydrogel-producing polymers, such as agarose, collagen, alginate, and poly(ethylene glycol) diacrylate have been studied by Organovo to produce 3D-printed human tissues out of living cells.

For weight-bearing implants, stronger materials are needed. Titanium 3D-printed implants have been used to replace a pelvis and a jawbone.

Amazing Possibilities

The 3D printing process has been changing lives, offering amazing possibilities for implant recipients that  were not considered possible before. For a Swedish teenager who received a 3D-printed hip implant, it is the difference between walking and a life in a wheelchair due to a rare hereditary condition:

Advances in 3D printing are revolutionizing the medical device, dental, and implant industries. 3D organ models make surgeries more successful, while 3D-printed implants offer speed, cost-efficiency, and unprecedented level of custom fitting. From hard titanium to soft hydrogels, 3D-printed materials allow us to turn dreams into reality. For some it means a second chance at life!

Image by woodoo007/123RF.
Source: “3D-Printed Skull Implanted in Patient,” UMC Utrecht Research News, umcutrecht.nl, March 27, 2014.
Source: “Medical First: 3-D Printed Skull Successfully Implanted in Woman,” by James Eng, NBC News, March 27, 2014.
Source: “Patient’s Cranium Replaced With Custom 3D Printed Implant,” by Jason Dorrier, singularityhub.com, March 30, 2014.
Source: “Patient Receives 3D Printed Implant to Replace 75 Percent of Skull,” by David J. Hill, singularityhub.com, March 28, 2013.
Source: “Baby’s Life Saved With 3D Printing,” by Rachael Rettner, livescience.com, May 22, 2013.
Source: Anatomics, anatomics.com.
Source: “OsteoFabTM Medical Devices and Implants. Breaking the Mold for the Medical Device Market.” Oxford Performance Materials, www.oxfordpm.com.
Source: Organovo, 3D human tissues, organovo.com.
Source: “Surgeon Creates Pelvis Using 3D Printer,” by Ben Farmer, The Telegraph, telegraph.co.uk, February 10, 2014.
Source: “The First 3D Printed Jaw Implant,” by Nikola Danaylov, singularityweblog.com.
Video: “Teen Walking Again After 3D-Printed Hip Implant, CBS News, YouTube.