A Better Mold for Cranioplasties: 3D Printing Enables Faster, Cheaper, More Predictable Outcomes

A 23-year-old woman presented at the University Hospital Osijek, Croatia, department of neurosurgery, with a benign change in the bones of her skull. The deformed part of the skull was on her forehead, and highly visible. In addition to needing to remove part of the diseased bone, doctors determined that it was also necessary to address the woman’s cosmetic defects in order to reduce the psychological consequences of the surgery.

Traditionally, this procedure, a cranioplasty, required surgeons to tailor polymethyl-methacrylate (PMMA) bone cement implants to the patient’s skull using silicone molds. But these molds often have poor aesthetic results, long production times and high costs. Additionally, the operation would be lengthy and the final outcome was not guaranteed. This patient, and many others, have benefited from the additive technology of 3D printing. Since 2013, faculty at the University of Zagreb’s Centre for Additive Technologies (CATeh), have experimented with various 3D printed materials for medical purposes.

A 23-year old woman’s successful cranioplasty using 3D printing technology.

A 23-year old woman’s successful cranioplasty using 3D printing technology.

“Before 3D printing, the surgeon had to shape the bone cement implant by hand. The aesthetic results were poor, the operation lasted longer and the outcome was less sure. With 3D printing, the outcome is much better because the implant is tailored to an individual’s CT scan.”

Miodrag Katalenic, University of Zagreb