Artificial eyes and plastic skulls via 3D printing

By Casey Frye, CCNN Writer

plastic skulls
This 3D-printed plastic skull was custom made and took almost a full day to implant.

3D printing continues pushing the limits of high-tech crafting in every industry, especially when it comes to “bioprinting” manmade human body parts. The science of human prosthetics – which replaces body parts with working artificial ones – is growing leaps and bounds thanks to 3D printers creating everything from skulls to eyeballs.

Recently, medical professionals in Holland performed the world’s first surgery to replace a patient’s skull with a plastic 3D-printed version. A 22-year-old woman’s skull was growing too thick, causing major headaches, and ruining her vision. Instead of removing pieces of the bone to relieve the pressure in a typical procedure, the team of doctors implanted a custom-made, 3D skull fragment. The entire operation took 23 hours and successfully restored the young woman back to health.

Meanwhile, researchers at Wake Forest School of Medicine are using printers to treat burn victims. The printer’s special “ink” is actually a mixture of different skin cells that promote growth. Usually, doctors have to take pieces of skin from healthy parts of the body and patch it onto the damaged area. With the special 3D printing ink, though, all doctors need to do is run a quick scan to assess a wound’s dimension, and accurately cover the area with a thin layer of skin.

If that process sounds fast, a UK company is producing an eye-popping amount of 3D-printed eyeballs at a rate of 150 an hour! Usually artificial eyes are made by hand and can take 8 to 9 hours per unit. Since 3D printing the eyes is fast and 97% cheaper than previous methods, patients all over the world can use the product within the next year.

Printed eyes here… plastic skulls there.. wow, is it just me, or are we slowly becoming human cyborgs?

Featured image courtesy of Manchester Metropolitan University. Image of plastic skull courtesy of UMC Utrecht on YouTube.