Watch a woman get a 3D-printed skull

When a Dutch woman with a rare condition needed a new skull, surgeons 3D-printed one for her and put it on her brain like a cap.

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The plastic skull is readied for implantation. Video screenshot by Michael Franco/CNET
An entire human cranium can now be added to the growing list of 3D-printed body parts that includes a fingertip, a hand, prosthetic eyes, arms, a jaw, and even a new foot for a duck.

The plastic skull was made by an Australian firm and placed on the brain of a Dutch woman at Utrecht University's University Medical Center in the Netherlands. The operation, which lasted 23 hours, took place about three months ago, and Dutch News just reported that the patient has returned to work -- plastic noggin and all.

"The patient has her sight back entirely, is symptom-free, is back to work, and it is almost impossible to see that she's ever had surgery," lead neurologist Ben Verweij said in a statement.

Prior to the procedure, the woman's skull was more than three times thicker than a normal skull due to a rare condition. The increased thickness caused the woman's skull to press on her brain, leading to severe headaches and vision loss. Although the report doesn't name the condition, Camurati-Engelmann disease is among the ailments that can cause skull bones to thicken.

"Implants used to be made by hand in the operating theater using a sort of cement which was far from ideal," Verweij said of the procedure, according to Dutch News. "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."

Verweiji says that although portions of skulls have been swapped out in the past, this is the first time an entire cranium has been replaced in a patient. And I bet this is the first time you've ever seen a plastic skull get attached to a real live brain. Let me know what you think in the comments below.

 

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