We’ve mentioned before how the applications of 3D printing in the field of medical science have changed the way both doctors and patients think of surgery. Whether it’s creating missing limbs or growing new tissue from scratch, the technology continues to move closer and closer to levels of sophistication once only thought of as science fiction.
But even as strides are made with visibly noticeable attachments, such as limbs, it’s the parts that aren’t always obvious which can go unattended. Fortunately, there are pioneers in the field who are devoting their attention to those specific “overlooked” areas.
The Titanium Skull
Jessica Cussioli was fortunate. She was able to survive an automobile accident in her native Brazil, but needed extensive reconstructive surgery to rebuild her face. Even after that was completed, there was still a 12-centimeter piece of her skull that was missing, leaving her head disfigured. What’s worse, the type of prosthesis that would assist with her condition proved far too expensive.
Fortunately for Jessica, her parents were resourceful. After contacting doctors at UNICAMP, the doctors agreed that Jessica would be a perfect candidate for a custom-molded titanium implant, created using 3D printing.
After an eight-hour procedure, Jessica’s implant was declared a success. The material is light weight, yet durable. Jessica is expected to make a full recovery, at which point she plans to return to her studies.
Until recently, a common complaint about prostheses was that they were both physically cumbersome and cosmetically unattractive. What’s more, they were often only effective for the most rudimentary functions of the missing limb. For instance, a prosthetic arm and hand could hold simple items, but the simple act of turning a key would prove difficult.
Then came the HACKberry.
Created by the Japanese company exii, the 3D printed HACKberry is major step forward in prosthetic functionality. In addition to its sleek design, the prosthetic boasts enough articulation in the wrist and digits to grab small items, flip through book pages, and even tie shoes. In addition to that, the hardware is able to be updated and added upon as the technology improves.
Both of the above innovations serve as reminders that while nearly all prosthetics serve a necessary purpose – substituting that which was lost – there’s also a sense of familiarity to be considered. It isn’t simply a case of finding a missing piece, it’s also trying to get it to work as well its predecessor. It might not be the original, but engineers doing their best to make the next best thing.