May 20, 2016 | By Alec

The Chinese medical world is increasingly becoming known for their very open approach towards innovative 3D printing solutions. As a result, numerous Chinese patients suffering from rare of complex problems have already benefited from custom 3D printed implants, instruments or surgical models. They are now joined by the one-year-old Chen Chen from Yongzhou City in the Hunan province. Suffering from a rare skull deformity called narrow cranial disease, he has become the first Chinese patient with this disease to successfully undergo surgery involving a custom made 3D printed skull model.

The disease is a rare, but debilitating complication that only occurs in about 0.005 percent of the population. As Chen Chen’s mother said, she noticed that her son’s skull was growing a strange tip, causing Chen Chen’s head to become longer and narrower than that of other children his age. “My son's head shape is obviously not the same as other children, the head’s top is growing long and narrow like a boat,” she said. “the shape is becoming navicular.”

Concerned, she took her son to a local hospital for examination, but received little attention there. But as the weeks turned into months, it became apparent that Chen Chen wasn’t developing like the other children. He did not begin to learn to speak or walk properly, so the concerned parents eventually took him to the Hunan Provincial Children's Hospital.

Fortunately, they did receive the help they needed there. As neurosurgery physician Wu Shui Hua revealed, Chen Chen was actually suffering from narrow cranial disease. Also known as craniosynostosis or cranial suture ossification, it is a congenital disorder of the skull that inhibits normal growth. This, in turn, prevents the head and brain to grow at the same pace of the body, resulting in visible deformation and – due to pressure on the brain – various brain dysfunctions.

The disease usually becomes apparent in children when they’re about two to three months old, when the various cranial sutures that cover the brain start to close prematurely. The intracranial pressure that is created can affect eyesight and movement coordination, and will result in learning disabilities and in some cases even papilledema, exophthalmos and more.

But there is a solution, if the disease is diagnosed as soon as possible. As Wu Shui Hua explained, the only treatment method is to ‘open’ the brain up again and expand the volume of the cranial cavity. As brains develop at very high rates – the brain of a two-year-old has already grown to about 70 to 80 percent of an adult’s brain size – the surgery ideally takes place before a child is two years old. If successful, the brain can continue its development process in the created space and overcome any early mental and motion development delays.

But cutting open and rebuilding a skull is obviously very dangerous work. Usually, surgeons have little more than some CT data available to plan a surgery, greatly increasing surgical times and the likelihood of failure. Wu Shui Hua’s team therefore resorted to 3D printing. Using all biometric data available, a perfect replica of Chen Chen’s skull was 3D printed at a 1:1 scale. Accurately depicting all of the complications and pressure points, it enabled Wu Shui Hua’s team to discuss and practice all surgical steps to determine the safest and most effective surgical process.

Thanks to this 3D printed reconstruction, Wu Shui Hua’s team was able to go into surgery on April 18. Being such a complicated surgery, it became a collaborative effort that also involved the hospital’s comprehensive emergency surgery, anesthesia, intensive care, and special inspection departments. Through their efforts, Chen Chen’s surgery was successfully completed after about six hours.

As Wu Shui Hua revealed, they worked hard to reset seven different bone segments during the surgery, creating a skull consisting of floating segments that give the cranial cavity every opportunity to expand. None of the crucial nerves were affected during the operation, and all post-surgery indicators revealed that Chen Chen came out just fine. The boy has recently been released from hospital, and the doctors hope that he will now be able to resume his development as a healthy young boy.



Posted in 3D Printing Application



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