Chinese 3-year-old with swollen head saved by first ever 3D-printed skull transplant surgery

PUBLISHED : Friday, 17 July, 2015, 2:06pm
UPDATED : Friday, 17 July, 2015, 2:06pm

In a 17 hour surgery, doctors in China successfully replaced the abnormally swollen skull of a 3-year-old girl suffering from hydrocephalus with a 3D-printed substitute, the first such procedure ever carried out.

Hydrocephalus, once colloquially known as "water on the brain", is a medical condition which causes fluid to accumulate in cavities in the brain.

The girl's head had swollen to more than four times its normal size, leaving the skull extremely enlarged and very vulnerable. Her body could not support such a large and heavy head, so the girl, known as Hanhan, has been confined to a bed since September, according to People's Daily.

Hanhan suffered from several serious complications as a result of the hydrocephalus, including severe pressure in her head, poor blood supply, blindness, and ulcers on the thinning portions of her skull.

Doctors at the Second People's Hospital in Hunan province decided to initiate a ground-breaking "brain reduction" surgery that had not previously been successful.

The surgery, lasting for more than 17 hours, included a 3D-skull transplant, scalp reconstruction, and fluid drainage.

The 3D-printed skull was made up of three pieces of titanium mesh, designed to match the measurements of Hanhan’s own skull. 
Last year, a similar surgery was conducted on a 22-year-old Dutch woman who had the top section of her skull removed and replaced with a 3D printed implant. The operation was performed by a team of neurosurgeons at the University Medical Centre Utrecht.

Also in 2014, a Chinese farmer whose head was partially crushed in an accident was also fitted with a replacement 3d-printed skull.

Ever since 3D printing was invented in 1980s, it has been widely used in many industries including medicine, biology, architecture, and engineering.

Researchers all over the world have made efforts in reproducing human organs by 3D printing. 3D-printed jaws, skulls, kidneys and livers have all been successfully created by scientists.

Earlier this year, four Hong Kong patients with bow legs were treated with 3D-printed technology, meaning they did not have to undergo lengthy hospital stays and painful treatment or spend months with large metal frames pinned to their legs.

The hospital said that following the surgery, Hanhan would require more surgeries before being fully recovered. The hospital is not charging her family for the procedures.