Bespoke Medical Devices Suit Patients Perfectly15 Oct, 2014 By: Scottie Barnes
Tech Trends: CAD software, 3D scanning technologies, and 3D printing are transforming the world of medical devices and implants.
In early 2014, a 22-year-old Dutch woman faced a unique predicament: She needed a new skull. A medical condition that caused thickening of the bone left her plagued by severe headaches. As the condition progressed, the increasing pressure on the brain impaired her motor coordination and slowly stole her vision. Without intervention, her prognosis was fatal.
Surgeons would have to remove part of the patient's skull to reduce pressure on the brain. In the past, the medical team would then have repositioned that portion or replaced it with an artificial implant, custom-made in the operating theater by hand using surgical cement. But, according to Bon Verweij, a surgeon at the University Medical Center (UMC) Utrecht, "those implants did not have a very good fit." So, for the first time in history, neurosurgeons instead inserted a tailor-made plastic replacement for the top half of the patient's skull.
To prepare for the surgery, medical staff provided computerized tomography (CT) and magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) data of the patient's skull to Australia-based Anatomics, which created a digital model of the implant using its AnatomicsRx CAD software. When installed on a hospital computer, the software enables medical staff to view CT and MRI data in 3D and electronically request a quote or place an order for a surgical biomodel or custom implant.
"Now we can use 3D printing to ensure that components are an exact fit," said Verweij. "This has major advantages, not only cosmetically, but also because patients [may] also have better brain function with this new method."
In this particular case, the patient's pain was soon gone, she quickly regained her vision, and she returned to work within three months. Her new cranium joins a growing list of 3D-printed prosthetics and medical devices that includes everything from hearing aids to entire limbs — each one custom-designed for the individual who needs it.
To relieve pressure on a patient's brain, the misshapen top portion of her skull was replaced with this tailor-made plastic version built on a 3D printer. Image courtesy of University Medical Center, Utrecht.