A medical team has carried out what is believed to be the world’s first brain transplant using a 3D printed implant. A 22-year old woman suffering from a condition that causes a thickening of the skull, had been slowly losing her vision and was suffering from motor coordination impairment, so Dr Bon Verweij of University Medical Center (UMC) Utrecht, began an in-depth study of reconstructions and 3D printing in order to replace her skull with an implant.
Brain implants have been used in previous cases where only part of a skull has been taken away in order to reduce pressure on the brain. Once the symptoms have improved, then either the removed piece of skull or an implant is used to fill the gap.
Dr Verweij explains how 3D printing technology makes sure that the components needed fit the patient’s brain exactly. “This has major advantages, not only cosmetically but also because patients often have better brain function compared with the old method,” he explained.
The Australian company Anatomics supplies custom-made impants and surgical models for the medical field and is an expert in 3D printing. It worked with Verweij’s medical team in producing the replacement skull, that was not only the first of its kind but vital for the patient.
“The thickening of the skull puts the brain under increasing pressure,” said Verwei. “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.”
The surgery which took a total of 23 hours was a success and the patient fully regaining her sight. She has been able to return to work, with virtually no sign of any operation having taken place.
UMC Utrecht will now be able to carry out similar procedures using 3D printed implants, allowing them to reconstruct skulls that been damaged by accidents or by tumours. Check out the video below which contains footage of the actual operation. Apologies it isn’t in English.
[Images via UMC Utrecht]