Nov 16, 2016 | By Nick

Seven-year-old Teddy Ward has a second chance at life thanks to a group of surgeons who used a 3D printer to build him a new skull. Physicians at the Children’s Hospital Los Angeles used a 3D printer to manufacture a plate from polyetheretherkotene (PEEK), a thermoplastic polymer that is popular in engineering circles and which is finding a niche in orthopedic and trauma treatment. 

Dr. Mark Urata, part of the team of surgeons operating on Teddy, explained that PEEK has a lot of the same mechanical properties as the bones of the skull, making it a natural fit for this complex procedure. Doctors needing implants have traditionally opted for titatium, due to its stability and strength, but in this case the doctors felt that the polymer offered Teddy the best chance of a normal life. “This was a remarkable defect,” Urata told CBS. “It’s pretty close to 50% of his skull that is gone.”

Of course, this was highly invasive surgery, and the doctors needed to be sure that the plate would fit perfectly. To do so, they obtained a series of 3D scans, including CT scans, to build a perfect image of Teddy’s skull. They then printed the replacement plate from PEEK. The procedure passed without a hitch, and after two years of suffering, Teddy can now lead a normal life once again.

Teddy injured himself in a heavy eight-meter fall down a Topanga Canyon hillside two years ago, a lifechanging accident that left the youngster with a traumatic brain injury and a hole in the left side of his skull that covered almost half of his head. Doctors fought to save as much of Teddy’s skull as they could, but surgery was unsuccessful. They told his heartbroken parents he would have to wear a helmet 24 hours a day, and that the outlook was bleak.

Teddy couldn’t play with other children, and his parents had to take all manner of precautions just to get him through the day. The biggest problem, however, was Teddy's state of mind. He wanted to be a normal five-year-old, but his mother Lisa simply couldn’t let him. She said: “I had to constantly tell him: ‘Slow down, no rough housing, be careful.’ For the whole time, he hasn’t been able to go to a single one of his friends’ birthday parties because they all have bouncy houses. He has not been able to go to any play dates or sleepovers, because no parent wants to take responsibility for a child without a skull.”

Watching her son play like a normal child in the wake of the surgery, the relief on her face is palpable. “We know we’re the lucky ones,” she said. “I just put the word out a few days ago that Teddy is available for play dates!”

Teddy’s case shows just how far medical 3D printing has come in a short space of time. Implant technology is progressing at an exceptional rate, and polymers are providing surgeons with options beyond traditional metals. By altering the composition of the polymers themselves, researchers can produce implants that offer a closer match to the actual bone they’re replacing or augmenting. Titanium is a strong, light and inert metal with a lot of benefits, but it is not an ideal physical match for bone in terms of flexibility and elasticity. That means that even a successful titanium implant can restrict the patient in terms of their physical activities and even their mobility.

We are just scratching the surface of 3D printed implant technology, with medical researchers now seeking ways to incorporate the new materials into surgical practice. These new materials, such as carbon fiber reinforced PEEK from Illinois tech company Impossible Objects, could create a new wave of lighter, stronger implants that could revolutionize implant technology. Until then, doctors have clearly woken up to the possibilities afforded by the physical properties of PEEK, and we can now look forward to seeing more children like Teddy getting a second chance at life.



Posted in 3D Printing Technology



Maybe you also like:


Leave a comment:

Your Name:


Subscribe us to Feeds twitter facebook   

About provides the latest news about 3D printing technology and 3D printers. We are now seven years old and have around 1.5 million unique visitors per month.

News Archive