The University Hospital of Salzburg in Austria successfully designed and produced its first 3D-printed polyetheretherketone (PEEK) cranial implant using 3D Systems’ point-of-care additive manufacturing technologies. The hospital used Oqton’s D2P software to create 3D models from the patient’s CT images and Oqton’s Geomagic Freeform to complete the design of the patient-specific occipital prosthesis. The cranial implant was printed using Vestakeep i4 3DF PEEK by Evonik on 3D Systems’ Kumovis R1 extrusion platform.
PEEK is a desirable material for medical device production because it is lightweight, resistant to thermal and ionizing radiation, and possesses mechanical properties like those of human bone. The Kumovis printing platform was specifically designed to enable this type of point-of-care application within the hospital.
The patient, Rainer Trummer, a computer scientist from Salzburg, suffers from craniosynostosis, where one of his cranial bones ossified too early during childhood, resulting in a skull deformation. While searching for help, Tummer turned to Professor Alexander Gaggl, head of the Department of Oral and Maxillofacial Surgery at the University Hospital of Salzburg, who decided on a spectacular treatment that would take months to complete.
“We planned to replace the visually missing occiput with a prosthesis,” said Gaggle. “However, we faced the challenge that the scalp is very taut and hardly stretchable.”
Last year, Trummer had a plastic balloon implanted under his scalp and 250 mL of saline solution pumped into it over six months. With 3D printing technology, in-house clinical engineers manufactured a PEEK implant in 10 hours. On February 10, 2023, a few days before Trummer’s 55th birthday, Gaggl and Senior Physician Simon Enzinger performed the procedure in six hours — a comparatively short time.
“We fixed the implant to the top of the skull with four plates and eight screws,” said Enzinger with a grin. “It holds bombproof!”
Six weeks later, the surgical wounds largely healed.
“I’m doing great, I’m totally happy!” said Trummer. “I don’t feel like I have an implant in my head, but now I have a completely ‘normal’ head. It’s like a miracle for me.”
The 3D printing lab is part of the University Hospital of Salzburg’s digitization strategy it has consistently pursued since the COVID-19 pandemic onset.
“We wanted to take with us the positive momentum that the pandemic triggered in this area,” said lecturer Paul Sungler, managing director of the University Hospital Salzburg and an experienced surgeon. “We stand for digitization in the interest of patients, and 3D printing and its many clinical application possibilities are a central building block here.”
3D-printed cranial implants are expected to accelerate alongside technological advancements. Acumen Research and Consulting recently reported that the cranial implants market size in 2021 was roughly $1.2 billion and is anticipated to approach $2.1 billion by 2030. Cranial implants can address many applications, including trauma, defects, and reconstruction. Advances in technology — including materials and manufacturing methodologies such as 3D printing — are anticipated to provide new solutions to help drive growth in this market.
“We are thrilled for Mr. Trummer and the relief this procedure has given him, and deeply indebted to the talented surgeons and staff at Salzburg University Hospital who brought together for the first time our unique software, hardware, and materials technologies in a point-of-care hospital setting to address his specific needs,” said Jeffrey Graves, president and CEO of 3D Systems. “We believe that this success provides a real-life demonstration of the potential for enhancing orthopedic outcomes using comprehensive digital manufacturing technologies in a hospital setting. Our focus on point-of-care implementation of these integrated technologies is a key priority for our company and one that we believe will bring significant benefits to patients around the world in the years ahead.”
As a pioneer in personalized healthcare solutions, 3D Systems has worked with surgeons for more than a decade to plan more than 150,000 patient-specific cases. The company has additively manufactured more than two million implants and instruments for 100+ CE-marked and FDA-cleared devices from its world-class, FDA-registered, ISO 13485-certified facilities in Littleton, Colorado, and Leuven, Belgium.
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