March 8, 2013 at 8:28 PM ET
A patient with a damaged skull has undergone a radical new treatment: having 75 percent of his damaged skull replaced with a 3-D printed prosthetic. It's the first time such a skull replacement has been used.
The recipient of the historic skull plate is being kept anonymous, but was one of the hundreds of people each month in the U.S. alone who suffer serious damage to their skull — serious, that is, but not irreparable.
For smaller plates, a piece of premade metal or plastic will serve, but for replacing larger portions of the skull (needless to say, the patient's 75 percent is at the high end), something more custom needed to be devised. Oxford Performance Materials specializes in this.
By scanning the skull of the patient and printing a custom skull using a proprietary body-friendly polymer, the company's team can create a prosthetic within two weeks that is perfectly fitted to the contours of the patient's brain and bone.
The process was only just approved by the Food and Drug Administration on Feb. 18, and the first operation took place this week.
No pictures of the actual patient with his new skull were made available, both to preserve his privacy and because such a photo would likely be quite gruesome such a short time after major surgery. The photo above, however, does show how the material would look before implanting.
Now that OsteoFab prosthetics, as they are called, are approved, OPM hopes to expand into other areas — of both the world and the body. "We see no part of the orthopedic industry being untouched by this," OPM's president, Scott De Felice, told TechNewsDaily.
Devin Coldewey is a contributing writer for NBC News Digital. His personal website is coldewey.cc.