The ability to design and print replacement body parts that are customised to an individual’s needs is revolutionizing medicine.
Now, in a surgery that was one of the first of its kind, doctors replaced part of a Chinese man’s skull with 3D printed titanium mesh that was moulded to perfectly restore the part of his skull that had been smashed in an accident.
In October of 2013 the man, a 46-year-old named Hu who lives in a town near Xi’an, was working on a construction project when he fell. He plunged three stories and smashed his head on a pile of wood. The fall caved in a significant portion of his skull, damaging his brain, causing vision loss, especially in his left eye, and depriving him of most of his ability to write and speak.
Doctors at Xijing Hospital in Xi’an brought in experts from around the world to try and figure out how to restore some sense of normalcy for Hu. They decided to scan Hu’s head and 3D print a titanium mesh replacement for part of his cranium, modelled after the right side of his head in order to give him a symmetrical appearance.
Even more impressive, his doctors think that after his brain has time to repair itself and grow within its new titanium structure, Hu should regain some of his lost ability to communicate.
Local news reports showed him smiling and excited before the surgery.
With printing materials specially made in Belgium and provided by Stryker, an American medical device manufacturer, Hu underwent surgery on the morning of August 28. After, he was transferred to the Intensive Care Unit to recover.
Titanium is a common replacement material for bones since it usually doesn’t cause any adverse reaction — U.S. Rep. Gabby Giffords had part of her skull patched with titanium mesh after being shot in the head in 2011 — but they still have to ensure that Hu’s system doesn’t reject the transplant.
His doctors, however, believe the transplant will be successful.
Doctors prepped Hu for surgery on August 27.
New Bones And A New Life
While this is one of the first transplants of its kind, medical developments in 3D printing technology have been offering people the chance at a new life all over the world.
The first ever complete 3D printed skull was implanted in a woman earlier in 2014. Without her new plastic cranium, a rare bone cancer would made her skull grow too thick and eventually would have killed her.
The Food and Drug Administration approved implants for facial reconstruction in August, and researchers are looking into ways that 3D printers can replace veins, skin, and other organs too.
As this technology continues to transform what doctors can do, more and more people suffering from grave injuries and diseases will have a previously unimaginable shot at a new life. And that’s pretty amazing.
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