A farmer whose skull was crushed in a fall from the third storey of his home was due to undergo surgery to receive a titanium replacement, made using a 3D printer.
Doctors in Xian, in Shaanxi province, used the latest technology to print out a custom-made implant that will be inserted under the skin of the man, surnamed Hu, and attached to the bones of the 46-year-old’s skull.
If successful, the titanium mesh will restore the natural shape of the farmer’s skull.
The news comes just days after doctors in Beijing were able to insert a 3D-printed vertebra in a 12-year-old cancer patient’s spine.
The child’s vertebra had been assailed by a tumour, and the replacement part is made of a material that would allow new bone to grow into it.
Doctors at Peking University Hospital took five hours on the surgery – the first such procedure in the world.
While 3D-printed organs are not yet commonly used, there have been previous cases of patients being implanted with 3D-printed jaws, hips and even a pelvis.
Similar to inkjet printers, the 3D printers work by squirting material in a layer based on a particular pattern. But unlike the common household printer, 3D ones continue laying down further layers of material until a physical object is formed.
A recent report cited by The Guardian said that medical 3D-printed organs and tissues would drive growth in the market for 3D printers over the next decade.
Analysts from Britain-based research firm IDTechEx said the dental and medical market for 3D printers could expand by 365 per cent to US$867 million by 2025 – even before bio-printing (using live cells) becomes commercially and scientifically feasible.
Currently 3D printers are widely used in the car industry, printing prototypes and car parts, The Guardian report said.