Them Bones: 3-D Printing

plastic skull

Plastic Skull


In a stunning demonstration of the positive side of the development of 3-D (a.k.a. additive) printing technology, a team of innovative Dutch surgeons led by Dr. Bon Verweij with the help of Australian prosthetic company Anatomics have “replaced” a human skull with a plastic prosthetic skull.  Three months ago, the surgeons working at University Medical Center Utrecht performed a 23 hour operation to correct problems a young woman was having due to thickening of her cranium caused by a rare bone disease. The pressure created by her excess bone growth – which had increased the thickness of her skull walls from the normal 1.5 centimeters thick to 5 centimeters (almost 2 inches) thick – was causing the unnamed 22 year-old woman to have severe headaches, go blind and have increasing problems with her motor skills.

This custom printed prosthetic is a vast improvement over the previous methods used in these kinds of corrective surgeries.  According to the Anatomics website:

Acrylic implants are typically fixed using titanium plates and screws. With the advances in clamp fixation systems, Anatomics has developed a new technique that prepares the acrylic implant and allows for simple and fast fixation using products like the CranioFix Titanium Clamp System. Some neurosurgeons believe this technique saves time and provides better stability and fixation.

Generally, cranial implants manufactured from acrylic are thinner than the patient’s skull to provide space for swelling and scar tissue. This has often resulted in clamping systems not being a viable option for custom implant fixation. Anatomics has overcome this problem by developing an acrylic implant product that is thickness matched at the skull wall yet still provides space for swelling and scar tissue. The implant can also include grooves for simple Craniofix placement to avoid further drilling, cutting or shaping.”

Like most scientific and technological advances, this was preceded by a procedure last year where an implant made by Connecticut based Oxford Performance Materials was used to replace 75% of a skull.  While the OPM made prosthetic was made from a plastic known as polyetherketoneketone (PEKK), the new prosthetic from Anatomics is made from an as yet unidentified mystery plastic.  The young woman who underwent this radical “skull transplant” is reportedly doing well. Three months after the procedure, she is back at work, pain free and can see again.  According to Dr. Verweij in a statement released by UMC Utrecht, “The patient has fully regained her vision, she has no more complaints, she’s gone back to work and there are almost no traces that she had any surgery at all.”

Given the recent media coverage given to additive printing (including several columns by this author in another forum) raising concerns about the technology’s use in weapons manufacturing, it is important to keep in mind most advances in technology are a two-edged sword. Printed guns are a small part of the picture. Consider that it isn’t just “printing bones” we are looking at with the development of additive printing technology. From human hearts to stem cells to lungs, additive printing is creating medical options for patients at an exciting rate and options that simply didn’t exist just a few years ago. We should as a society watch this developing technology closely to both be on guard for potential abuses but also be looking for new ways to save lives and improve the quality of life.

What do you think?

Source(s): NBC News, Anatomics, ExtremeTech (1, 2, 3, 4, 5)

About Gene Howington

I write and do other stuff.
This entry was posted in 3-D Printing, Australia, Biology, Chemistry, Health Care, Medical Technology, Netherlands, Science, Technology, United States. Bookmark the permalink.

9 Responses to Them Bones: 3-D Printing

  1. My older daughter just had a major hip replacement with metal replacing the bone of her pelvis which had degraded due to overdose of radiation from the radiation therapy. It is heavy, cost a major fortune, and took forever to be manufactured…in Germany, I think. She had to wait more than a year for it to be manufactured. This technology would have saved time, money and kept her off as many pain medications.

  2. bigfatmike says:

    ‘Printed guns are a small part of the picture.’

    Agreed. Printed guns are the ‘gee whiz’ part of 3D printing technology.

    What is it that printing guns actually accomplishes? The ability to print guns changes and possibly lowers the skill set required to produce a fire arm. That change is, to some degree, limited by the fact that current gun designs do not work very well with the materials currently available for printing.

    It seems to me that a far more realistic threat for the fabrication of fire arms is presented by computer controlled metal fabrication equipment. Hobbyist and DIY cnc equipment is also relatively inexpensive, easily available, and change the skill set necessary to product what is in fact a high quality fire arm.

    But for some reason DIY level cnc equipment is not nearly as trendy or as widely commented upon.

  3. Anonymouly Yours says:

    I read somewhere where they are experimenting with the implants in the human brain…. Ok… Maybe the show intelligence is not too far away…. From reality….

  4. Mike Spindell says:

    This is an amazing technology that is somewhat hard for even an old science fiction fan like me to wrap his head around. Yet with every scientific/technological advance made the human question is will it be used for good, evil or both. The answer is the latter of course, as long as we live in a world where money and power are the prime movers. Our technological revolution continues apace, but our psychological/emotional functioning lags tens of thousands of years behind and that is what can destroy us.

  5. OroLee says:

    Go to, search “3d printing” Medicine, kidneys, houses . . .

  6. Blouise says:

    My future grandson-in-law is an engineer specializing in prosthesis. Words can not express the excitement he feels over this latest development.

  7. Tony C. says:

    I note that it has also been recently found that collagen matrices play a major role in how reproducing stem cells choose to differentiate. For example, we can use solvents to remove cells from an organ, leaving behind a collagen 3-d web, and if we introduce stem cells into that web and provide nutrients, they need very few or no cues to grow back into all the kinds of cells that form that organ. The collagen web is the operating system, in a sense, physical proximity and orientation to other cells determines genetic expression and differentiation. This approach has been used successfully to replace thigh muscle in a soldier that lost much of his upper thigh in an explosion; the transplant collagen was from a pig muscle chosen to match, but the cells were his own.

    If we can crack the code of how these collagen webs do that (now that we know what to look for), we may be able to 3-D print the webs with collagen as the “ink” and regrow complex organs to order at the right size, with the patient’s own cells. Or even genetically modified cells; for example a cystic fibrosis patient could grow lungs for transplant using their own cells but without their genetic defect; perhaps with a genetic transplant of the culprit gene from a parent without it. No anti-rejection meds needed.

    Or indeed, entire limbs; bones, muscles, etc.

  8. Tony C. says:

    Hlep! Lpeh! Hepl! Help! I posted something, it is stuck in the filter.

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