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12:30 pm
Wed March 13, 2013

3D Printing Replaces 75 Percent of Man's Skull

3D printing technology has been working its way into a multitude of sectors - from manufacturing, to printable electronic circuits.

Recently the platform has received a lot of attention for delving into yet another field, with the technology now also being applied in medicine. In a recent procedure, a man had 75 percent of his skull replaced by a 3D printed implant.

The patient’s head was first imaged by a 3D scanner, and then a plastic bone-replacement implant was printed to suit his features and surgically implanted.

Chief of Neurosurgery at Highland Hospital, Dr. Jason Huang says 3D printed implants have the potential to more accurately re-construct a patient’s face or skull.

“I think this kind of technology can be very helpful. For us it has a better cosmetic effect in repairing a skull defect.”

Dr. Huang says, after functionality and safety, one of the chief objectives for surgeons is to give a patient the best aesthetic outcome after a trauma surgery.

He says the more ‘normal’ an implant looks, the better it can aid in psychological recovery. And he thinks 3D printed implants could have a great impact in that way.

“After surgery, after a traumatic event, the closer to normal I think the better off they are. Both psychologically and physically they feel better.”

Dr. Huang says he can see this technology being useful in several different applications, including facial reconstruction and spinal trauma, as well as in the repair of skull defects.

The company that created the implant, Oxford Performance Materials claims there are around 500 people each month in the US who could benefit from the technology.

They say recipients of 3D printed implants could range from injured construction workers, to wounded soldiers.

The 3D implants can now be used to replace damaged bone after being given FDA approval late last month, and can be produced within two weeks of the 3D scan.

The implant is made from a special thermo-plastic called polyetherketoneketone (PEKK). There are tiny surface details etched into the plastic that encourage the growth of cells and bone.

Dr. Huang says, if the equipment and process are not too expensive, he could see this technology being very helpful in hospitals across the country.