World's first 3D-printed skull saves 22-year-old patient

In a world-first, brain surgeon Dr. Bon Verweij of the University Medical Center (UMC) Utrecht has successfully replaced the entire skull of a 22-year-old woman with a 3D-printed, tailor-made plastic skull during a 23-hour-long operation.


The patient suffers from a condition that thickens the bone structure, particularly that of the skull, which, if left untreated leads to loss of vision, severe headaches and, ultimately, death. Verweij performed the operation together with orthodontic surgeon Dr. Marvick Muradin.

Before introducing this clinical application, Verweij gained extensive experience with reconstructions and the 3D printing of partial skull implants. In some instances, for example when the brain swells up after an accident, a section of the skull is often temporarily removed to reduce pressure on the brain. The removed part is later reintroduced or replaced by an implant. "We used to create an implant by hand in the operating theatre using a kind of cement, but those implants did not have a very good fit," explained Verweij. "Now we can use 3D printing to ensure that these components are an exact fit. This has major advantages, not only cosmetically but also because patients often have better brain function compared with the old method. UMC Utrecht is now able to help other patients with this, and other bone deformities, to reconstruct skulls that have been severely damaged in an accident, or due to tumours.