Several months ago, neurosurgeons in the Netherlands took off most of a young woman's skull and replaced it with a chunk of plastic.
Dr. Bon Verweij, a brain surgeon with the University Medical Centre in Utrecht, recently released a graphic video of the procedure. Verweij had done partial reconstructions before, but he believes this is the first full-skull replacement.
The patient was described as a 22-year-old woman with a rare condition that was thickening her skull, pressing the bone inward on her brain (it had become almost two inches thick). She suffered from extreme headaches, had lost the ability to make facial expressions and also lost her vision.
In a 23-hour operation, doctors sawed off the bone and attached this custom-made, 3-D-printed artificial skull in its place. It was fabricated out of plastic by Australian firm Anatomics, makers of surgical-grade acrylic implants (also known as polymethyl methacrylate).
There is a wide variety of uses for these implants, from reconstruction after an accident to repairing craniofacial damage from a malformation or tumour.
The company provides software to help doctors 3-D model what kind of implant they need based on conventional CT or MRI scans, place an order and get the new "part" shipped to hospitals in the United States and Europe. UMC Utrecht reports that the young woman is back at work, vision restored, with "almost no traces that she had any surgery at all."