3D-Printed Skull Implant Ready for Operation

The precision offered by 3-D printing can make tiny surface details on the replacement part that encourage the growth of cells and allow the bone to attach more easily.

3D printing technology has helped replace 75 percent of a patient's skull with the approval of U.S. regulators.

The 3D-printed implant can replace the bone in people's skulls damaged by disease or trauma, according to Oxford Performance Materials. The company announced it had received approval from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration for its skull implant on Feb. 18 — a decision that led to the first U.S. surgical operation on March 4.

ANALYSIS: Make a Gummy, 3-D Version of Yourself

"We see no part of the orthopedic industry being untouched by this," said Scott DeFelice, president of Oxford Performance Materials.

DeFelice's company is already selling 3D-printed implants overseas as a contract manufacturer. But the FDA decision has opened the door for U.S. operations using the implants. [Video: A 3D Printer of Your Own]

3D printing's advantage comes from taking the digitally scanned model of a patient's skull and "printing" out a matching 3D object layer by layer. The precise manufacturing technique can even make tiny surface or edge details on the replacement part that encourage the growth of cells and allow bone to attach more easily.

About 300 to 500 U.S. patients could use skull bone replacements every month, according to DeFelice. The possible patients include people with cancerous bone in their skulls, as well as car accident victims and U.S. military members suffering from head trauma.

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