Successful 3D Printed Cranium Implant


What an age we live in. If the image above looks like the entire top of a skull — it’s because it is. Surgeons successfully replaced a 22 year old woman’s cranium with this plastic copy.

We’ve seen small 3D printed transplants before, but nothing as big as this. A 22 year old woman suffered from a very rare disorder in which her skull never stopped growing. While normal skulls are about 1.5cm thick, hers was almost 5cm thick by the time of the surgery. If they left it any longer, the continued bone growth would have eventually killed her.

Until now this surgery has required a hand-made concrete-like implant to replace the removed bone. As you can imagine, it’s hardly an ideal solution. Thanks to continually advancing 3D printing technology, surgeons at the University of Utrecht UMC were able to create an exact copy in a durable and lightweight clear plastic, which also has a better rate of brain function recovery than the old way of doing it.

The 23 hour surgery took place last December and was a huge success with the patient making a full recovery — if you’re not too squeamish around exposed brains, check out the following video. Wow.

[Thanks Kyle!]

43 thoughts on “Successful 3D Printed Cranium Implant

    1. I’d guess to give her skin something to anchor to, it’ll grow into them. Otherwise her scalp would slide about when she brushes her hair!

      One disease where bone doesn’t stop growing is Osteopetrosis, caused by a failure of osteoclast function. Dunno that it would cause a 5cm thick cranium though.

  1. I’m a neurosurgeon and perform skull reconstructions. There are many companies which make these sort of 3D printed skull implants; though the size of this one is larger than most (I usually use Synthes, but there are other companies). They’ve been available for at least 10 years now.

    I don’t use one with ‘dimples’ — but suspect that they help with scalp adherence — otherwise the cosmetic effect of the scalp sliding freely around on a smooth surface would be unappealing. Other constructs are a rough plastic (like PEEK) that serve the same purpose.

    1. Could you or anyone comment on how nerves that are around the base of the skull would be affected? Also, am I correct in thinking that there’s a nerve that actually goes through a portion of the skull near the ear? The Trigeminal nerve if I remember correctly.

    1. True. Wonder if you could talk them into it. Certainly I’d want it as an option if I ever start going bald. Screw just shaving your head, if I go bald I’m gonna do it properly!

    1. I saw an interview with the surgeon on Dutch tv, the holes are for connecting the musscles (I think it was for the lower jaw) back to the skull. The operation was taking 23 hours mainly because removing th old scull took roughly 20 hours with a kind of mill. They made sure that every mill in the hospital was available for the surgery and managed to use up and damage all of them in the one procedure.

          1. Really? Daaaamn. Does that enable it to be used as a bluetooth headset? That seems like a really good solution to eliminate those compatibility issues with handsets and cochlear implants, huh? Is that what it’s mainly used for or…?

            Anyway, I still don’t think I’d trust some sort of bluetooth module or any type of radio tranciever to reside under my skullcap directly next to my brain. If I had to, I’d want an external battery and maybe a some kind of waterblock. LOL

            I’m not saying I would completely avoid some cool cyborgish implants and stuff, though. One day I would love to be able to replace my forearm with a prosthetic arm like Ash Williams on Army of Darkness, but integrate some mobile device with a touch display into it. 8p I wouldn’t care if it was high maintenance, as long it was stonger than my original arm. I’ll see if I can get that done in the next sixty years, but I’ll probably just waste time with these facepalmable comments I’ve been leaving on this site since 2004.

    2. The only blood vessels going into the brain enter the brain at the stem. There are no openings in the natural human skull for blood vessels protruding from the inside of the scalp to enter the brain (or something like that) and there are no vessels running along the inside of the skull entering the brain at the top. Good thing too, since that would make a punch to the head exceedingly likely to result a in brain hemorrhage.

    1. First of all the comments above are.. absolutely black humour :)))) Shame on you all, because I lol’d :D Anyway i’m glad, that 22 year woman is now recovered and her life goes on! :)

      ianhanschen, most suorces writes, that material is “top secret”.. But if is used PMMA with others compounds, then wich type of 3D printing they used? FDM? I was thinking, that they maybe could used DLP with UV epoxy? Since the 3D printed skull have very nice finished smooth surface. It is interesting are holes ar drilled with CNC or “printed” in the overall process. And what type of 3D printer they have?

        1. An industry osteofab guy who also thought they used PMMA told me that if they did, that they 3d printed a mould, and then used that to make the implant out of PMMA.

      1. Salokcin, ianhanschen, very interesting thoughts.

        So, if they printed mold and then casted the skull replica, does it can be called literally “3D printed skull”? Or i just don’t understand? Or it is media trick ( I know, dumb question, but I thought, that they printed like the prosthetic hand (

      2. Two friends of mine are body mod/implanters. According to them, it is quite difficult to engineer materials that the body with both adhere to, and simultaneously not eventually reject. So, we can guess as to the approximate materials, but that “top secret” bit likely refers to the manufacturer’s precise blend of plastic. A whole lot of research had to go into that.

  2. What the hell’s with the video, I couldn’t understand a word they said, it’s like they were speaking a whole nother language! This is cool though, wonder what other bones they could replace (no, not the one your think of, pervert!)

    1. What are you asking? A normal cranium, according to this, is 1.5cm thick. The patients had grown to 5cm because she had a disease. So they replaced it with a plastic one of the correct size. What don’t you believe?

      1. It almost made it sound it was implying that her skull had increased to that size from 1.5 since they started to come up with the solution for her diagnosis or something! XD

        I actually had to reread it because I read it like this the first time. :/

        Obviously, it wasn’t that fast and that the disease just causes her skull to keep growing and it didn’t exactly say what the rate of growth wasin this article, just that it would “eventually” kill her.

  3. That was an incredible video, her skull was massive, I feel terrible for her, she must have had massive migraines and headaches every day, disphoria, confusion, I can’t imagine. This really made my day, along with the article on the bronchial tubes, I love to hear that somewhere people are experimenting and pushing forward, and succeeding, helping people in the process.

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