CHANGSHA • A toddler in China's Hunan province has become the first person in the world to have her cranium successfully reconstructed using 3D printing technology.
Three-year-old Han Han has congenital hydrocephalus, which causes an abnormal amount of fluid to build up in the brain. She is bedridden, as her neck cannot support the weight of her head, which has grown to four times its normal size.
The condition has also led to infections that could leave her blind.
Surgeons at Second People's Hospital in Changsha city are trying to help her with a 3D-printed skull implant. They used 3D printing equipment to make a model of her skull, so they could design a titanium mesh to replace her cerebral cranium (which protects the brain).
They removed a part of her skull and put in the mesh in a 17-hour operation that ended on Wednesday.
"After the skull is removed, the brain is like an egg that's been peeled. We have to drain excess fluid so the membrane can hold tight and stop the brain from moving too much. We also have to keep the skull pressure at the right level," said Dr Kuang Weiping, who took part in the surgery.
Surgeons had to drain 7.5 litres of fluid, which took four hours. The facial cranium was left intact as a base to secure the mesh, said Dr Kuang.
An adult-size skull implant was used because Han Han is still growing, said the surgeons. They noted that the extra scalp tissue can be used to help repair her head as it becomes smaller.
Han Han is still in intensive care.