back to article Dutch doctors replace woman's skull with 3D-printed plastic copy

Doctors at the University Medical Center in Utrecht have saved a woman's life – by carrying out the first skull transplant using plastic parts built in a 3D printer. The unnamed 22-year-old patient was suffering from a rare condition that caused the inside of her skull to grow extra bone, which squeezed her brain. The growth …


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  1. proto-robbie

    Is this available for faces?

    1. TheFinn

      Reckon it's certainly complementary to facial reconstruction. I can't even imagine the complexity involved, even after watching this video, but it's humbling to know there are people that can. Yay for science!

      1. Wzrd1

        @TheFinn, I didn't watch the video, but am rather well acquainted with the complexities of facial bone-muscle attachments.

        Daunting is to put the task at hand at a minimized level!

        One ponders a medal higher than a mere Nobel Prize...

    2. Eponymous Cowherd

      Patient's face rebuilt with 3D printed parts

      This guy had his face reconstructed using 3D printed parts.


    3. JeffyPoooh

      "Dutch doctors install entire 3D-Printed Head on woman!"

      Headline - there, I fixed it for you.

      Any tech news item about 3D Printing must include an over-the-top and completely false headline, that implies the impossible. I'm pretty certain that's the law.

  2. Chimp

    I want...

    ... my skull redone in sintered titanium. I will then make a bundle as the next Marvel super hero. I would need a snappy handle. Titanium Man? Too long... Tit Man?

    1. I ain't Spartacus Gold badge

      Re: I want...

      How about, Titanium Cranium Brainium Retainium Man?

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: I want...

        ...and when citizens ask you how you came to be, you just can't refrainium from 'xplainium

    2. jzlondon

      Re: I want...

      You'd want a snappy handle? For carrying, or hanging things on?

    3. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: I want...

      Titanium dissolves in blood over time and is actually poisonous - but since the process of it dissolving is so slow, the health impact of it is manageable. Surgical grade stainless steel is probably a better bet. Not only is it less poisonous as it dissolves, but it is also considerably stronger per unit volume (but also heavier).

      The only problem you might have is that if you go up against someone with Magneto-like powers, you'll be in a lot more trouble with steel than with titanium.


        Re: I want...

        Not sure about that. Ti is generally regrded as very biocompatible; it's so reactive that it is covered instantly with a stable, unreactive oxide layer. In general, the problem is achieving any chemical bond between Ti and anything in the body, though there are some applications (eg dental implants) where a titanium component 'osseo integrates', forming a mechanically strong connection to bone.

      2. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: I want...

        Surely in a fight, you'd also want shock absorbers for the brain, as many injuries are caused by the brain impacting its protector, whether that be made of Titanium, Steel or Composite materials.

    4. Fruit and Nutcase Silver badge

      Re: I want...

      Have a word with D̶a̶m̶i̶e̶n̶ ̶H̶i̶r̶s̶t̶ Jack du Rose. He may be able to help.

      "I was commissioned through a third party, it wasn't a collaboration.I had no idea it was for Damien until a friend rang me up and told me it was on the front page of the Sunday papers", says du Rose, 30, who has worked with the jeweller Stephen Webster. "I just assumed it was for some oligarch to use as a bookend."

    5. Scroticus Canis

      Re: I want...

      Klang would be more appropriate and onomatopoeic when hit upside the head with a metal bar.

    6. Wzrd1

      Re: I want...

      Head Too Heavy To Lift Man.

      Titanium is midline between density and strength of steel and aluminum.

      Calcium is far lighter.

      But, go for it, oh, man whose head is stuck on the floor man. :)

      1. wowfood

        Re: I want...

        Only issue is they spy satellites. If people with metal fillings can pick up radiowaves, imagine what you could pick up with an entire skull made of metal. They could use you to intercept enemy transmissions, or you could attach a wire from your head to your phone to boost signal strength.

        1. Mage Silver badge

          Re: I want...

          The teeth picking up Radio Waves myth was started by Lucy (Lucille Ball). It's no basis in fact.

          1. sisk

            Re: I want...

            Lucy certainly heard something. Most likely the origin was biological though. I've no doubt that metal in the body can pick up radio waves. Actually doing anything with them is another matter, and allowing people with metal fillings to interpret them with no additional electronics is pure fiction.

  3. David 45

    Great achievement

    This is obviously what 3D printing is REALLY for! Great stuff to use it to save a life. Presumably the scalp, complete with hair is somehow reinstated? It would have been good to have a bit more in-depth information in a separate article or video, as this type of pioneering work (though possibly a tad gruesome in parts!) fascinates me.

    1. Alex Rose

      Re: Great achievement

      An incision is likely to have been made in the scalp at the back of the head; the scalp (including hair of course) will then have been rolled forward exposing the skull. After the operation roll back and stitch up. Hey presto!

      Now if someone can explain to me why there were rows of holes in the implant...

  4. frank ly

    Amazing operation

    It's a marvellous achievement and I'm wondering if the acrylic had any special surface treatment to make it more 'acceptable' to the reattached scalp or if it's just ordinary acrylic material.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Amazing operation

      One hopes its special medical Acrylic otherwise I wouldn't want to be that patient once the plasticisers and other unpleasent chemicals that you get in normal plastics start to leach out into her brain.

  5. WraithCadmus

    Spirit of Beadle

    Maybe it's being stuck in the office on a nice Saturday morning, but I read the headline like this

    "Dutch doctors replace woman's skull with 3D-printed plastic copy... let's see if she notices!"

  6. Tom 7 Silver badge

    Leave the scalp off and lots of LED's please!

    And half a dalek to ride around in too!

  7. Arctic fox
    Thumb Up

    I am obliged to admit that I wimped out and could not bring myself....... actually watch the video. However, it is indeed an astonishing medical/scientific achievement and I cannot express too strongly my admiration for the team involved.

    1. sisk

      Re: I am obliged to admit that I wimped out and could not bring myself.......

      Don't feel bad. I didn't watch it either. Suffice it to say that there's a reason that I'm one of the few in my family for 2 generations to not work in the medical field. (My parents and 3 of their collective 5 siblings are in the medical field, as is one of my two sisters. My baby sister is still in college majoring in biology. She may not go into medicine, but it'll probably be close enough.)

      Still, quite an accomplishment this.

  8. Winkypop Silver badge

    Plastic fantasic!

    Yay for the people involved and especially the Head head printer.

  9. John Smith 19 Gold badge

    OMFG I've not seen that gag pulled since Doctor Who.

    With Phillip Madoc in (IIRC) The Brain of Morbius.

    This women now has a skull made out of the sort of stuff they make the safety panels in taxi cabs out of.

    Obviously time will tell if this is a good idea or not, but I wish her well.

    But you do have to wonder what happens if she stands between someone and a bright light....

  10. ecofeco Silver badge

    We have the technology

    Gentlemen, we can rebuild him. We have the technology. We have the capability to build the world's first bionic man. Steve Austin will be that man. Better than he was before. Better, stronger, faster.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: We have the technology


  11. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Bork bork bork

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Presumably a reference to the Swedish chef of the Muppets?

      'cos Sweden and Holland are a long walk away from one another.

      This is something I really hate. Thematically inappropriate or factually inaccurate racism. Anything else can be exploited for comedy purposes.

  12. Bronek Kozicki
    Thumb Up

    this is very impressive

    We get more of rocket science than neural surgery here, and even though it is arguable how much of neural surgery this was, I'm very impressed. The view of (partially) exposed brain of a living human sent shivers down my spine.

    I hope she pulls through with no complications and restored to full health.

    1. Phil W

      Re: this is very impressive

      Well according to the article she's back at work, so it would appear she's doing just fine.

  13. southpacificpom
    Paris Hilton

    When I see stories like this where a woman gets better head, I am always pleased...

  14. skeptical i

    Can this double as a built-in tinfoil hat?

    Lame joke attempt aside, this was quite an impressive bit of work!

  15. Dick Emery

    A bright idea.

    Just don't stand next to bright lights. That was just off the top of my head.

    1. Lars Silver badge

      Re: A bright idea.

      Not bad, she will just be more enlightened.

    2. John Smith 19 Gold badge

      Re: A bright idea.

      "Just don't stand next to bright lights. That was just off the top of my head."

      The egg candling gag has already been done.

  16. Anonymous Coward

    I could understand someone being pretty apprehensive about this kind of surgery, but it looks like she kept an open mind...

  17. Goldmember

    Frigging awesome

    These articles make me smile. It's reassuring to know that amongst the patent trolls, scam artists and general twats who inhabit this Earth and dominate the headlines, there are teams of people like this, using technology to do great things, things which just 5 years ago were unimaginable.

    A fantastic achievement all round.

  18. Whiznot

    I want a skinless gold skull. Gonna win the bling war.

  19. Robert Heffernan

    The Other Half

    I am assuming her bone thickening condition wasn't only taking place inside the top half of her skull. How are they dealing with the thickening in the bottom half that the neck, cheek, node and jaws are attached to?

    1. CT

      Re: The Other Half

      I'd guess any thickening in the lower half of the head wouldn't be as serious, as it's not compressing the brain.

  20. Eddy Ito
    Thumb Up

    Just wow

    I wonder how much the weight difference is. The chunk they took out looked pretty thick and was probably fairly heavy. I imagine this has relieved quite a bit of stress on her neck as well as her brain. I hope all works out well and that she never has to endure a repeat procedure in another area.

  21. tempemeaty


    I only hope they can make it from a stronger material than acrylic in the future.

  22. John Smith 19 Gold badge

    Face/off 17 years after.

    This is (loosely) the technology used by John Travolta to impersonate Nicholas Cage in the film.

    When it was made the idea of such a structure, and indeed an actual face transplant, were complete science fiction.

    Both procedures now exist, not for some government intelligence purpose, but simply to enhance the lives of people otherwise hopelessly injured either by accident or genetics.

    That's quite impressive.

  23. Ralph B

    They should have done this in Denmark

    This is clearly the first step towards creating a human-Lego cyborg.

    I for one welcome our robust, dishwasher-safe overlords.

  24. Michael H.F. Wilkinson
    Thumb Up

    One of the best uses of 3D printing I have seen

    If not the best

  25. Crisp

    How long until we can print the rest of the human?

    It's only a matter of time...

  26. wowfood

    Mojo jojo

    Seeing a brain in a plastic casing reminded me so much of mojo jojo from the powerpuff girls. I could just imagine some eccentric billionaire rich guy having the top of his skull replaced with a plastic tube that showed off his brain beneath.

  27. Dr Patrick J R Harkin

    "by carrying out the first skull transplant using plastic parts built in a 3D printer."

    May I point out that this is an implant, not a transplant? My membership of the British Pedantic Society (soon to be renamed British Society of Pedants, as it's the members who are pedantic, not the society itself) is up for renewal.

    1. Alister

      Re: "by carrying out the first skull transplant using plastic parts built in a 3D printer."

      May I point out that this is an implant, not a transplant?

      So medically, to be a transplant, does the replacement part have to have been part of a different body first?

    2. Kubla Cant Silver badge

      Re: "by carrying out the first skull transplant using plastic parts built in a 3D printer."

      the British Pedantic Society ... soon to be renamed British Society of Pedants

      Expect fierce opposition from the Society of British Pedants.

  28. Paul_Murphy

    I hope...

    That the surgeon wasn't washing his hands after and wondering where his watch had got to.

  29. Dodgy Geezer Silver badge

    Of course, for Formula 1... really ought to be made of carbon fibre...

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Of course, for Formula 1...

      For Formula 1, they'd have required the implant to be the same as everyone else's to reduce costs, so the doctor would have to buy hundreds of them to find one which fit best due to tolerance errors introduced by the sole supplier. ;)

  30. Kubla Cant Silver badge


    I just finished reading another Reg article about a "glass brain" application.

    Now I read of a woman with an acrylic skull. Presumably if they left a window in her scalp she could do the glass brain thing without recourse to MRI.

  31. Stevie


    Real Science! Shower everyone concerned with praise and rewards.

    Astronomers, take note.

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