Unfortunately sometimes in neurosurgery when you do a surgery you have to leave the part of the skull you remove to access the brain off. The most common situation is in neurotrauma.
A patient has had an extensive injury and perhaps there scalp has been opened and the underlying skull is exposed to the outside and poses a real infection risk.
Or their skull has been fractured so badly that it can’t cosmetically be put back together very well.
Or they have their skull put back on after surgery but it gets infected and then the infected piece of bone has to be removed and can’t be used again.
In these cases we sometimes use custom made implants which are built by biomedical firms off of a special CT scan. They are pretty amazing and can give great results. They’re also expensive and to be honest I’m not one hundred percent sure how they’re made.
But it comes as no surprise to me that the rise of commercial 3D printing might disrupt the, admittedly small, market for such cranioplasty implants and substantially lower costs.
Now replacing large portions of people’s skulls is not necessarily new. Back in 1997, Science Daily reported on advances in implants that involved using CT and MRI scans to create a model of the skull and then have a special implant manufactured from medical-grade plastic. What’s different about the 3D printed approach is that implants are lower cost and can be customized to specifically fit the patient. Additionally, if the implant doesn’t quite work out, replacements are readily available.
Other implants are coming, I would imagine. It is likely to be pretty impressive technology.