3D Printed Temporary Helmet Protects Young Patient Waiting for Cranioplasty

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3D printing has been used many times to fabricate helmets, but not just ones to protect your head during sports like cycling and baseball. Custom 3D printed helmets for adults and children have also served a great purpose in terms of medical applications.

Researchers Luis Rene González Lucano, Francisco Javier de la Peña Brambila, Juan Eduardo Pérez, and Paola Hernández Rosales from Tecnologico de Monterrey in Mexico published a paper, titled “Customized Low-Cost 3D Printed Helmet as a Temporary Measure for a Patient with Acrania,” in the form of a Letter to the Editor to the Indian Journal of Plastic Surgery, about the use of a 3D printed helmet for treating a 3-year-old female patient who has occipital acrania, which is a rare fatal congenital anomaly characterized by an absence of the skullcap.

In their paper, the researchers wrote, “Orthotic helmets are an alternative temporary measure for patients who cannot have the surgery or have to postpone it for different reasons; they protect the vulnerable structures and hold them in place until the definitive treatment can be performed.”

The young patient’s neurosurgical team has decided to hold off on a surgical solution until she is seven, in order to “avoid the need of a second procedure due to bone resorption or head growth if a bone allograft or a titanium implant is used.”

“For our patient, the occipital acrania represented a big obstacle for her during the rehabilitation process because they were afraid of hurting her due to the lack of protection of the whole occipital lobe. Because of this, an individualized helmet was created by 3D printing from a CT scan reconstruction of the same patient,” the researchers wrote.

Fig. 1 CT scan 3D model of the patient’s head. Posterior and posterolateral view of the defect.

CT scans can help generate a 3D reconstruction by detecting radiation through “the sequential acquisition” of multiple images that are separated by equal spaces; then, the images are saved in a DICOM format. The researchers used DICOM Osirix, a specialized image processing software, to complete the 3D reconstruction. Then, the resulting 3D model was exported to SOLIDWORKS.

In the software, “…the solid is used as a reference to generate the custom structure of the helmet taking as reference the frontal bone, the atlanto-occipital joint, the temporal bone and sphenoid bone,” the researchers explained.

“After making the 3D model of the helmet on the solid of the human figure, an extraction or subtraction between pieces is made to make the hollow of the helmet with the anatomical shape of the head, which will allow the helmet to adapt appropriately on the area that needs to be protected.”

Final flexible photopolymer resin helmet adapted to the patient’s anatomical head shape.

The 3D printed helmet, which features holes for ventilation and sweat prevention, is made of a flexible photopolymer resin, which has great resistance for a comfortable fit, and the helmet can even be adapted to the growth of the patient’s skull. The custom helmet has allowed her to perform therapy correctly, with less restrictions, thanks to the protection it offers, and she is now able to sit by herself and, with assistance, even stand on her feet for a few seconds.

These kinds of temporary helmets are very helpful for patients who are waiting for a cranioplasty, but when made through conventional methods of manufacturing, the cost can reach nearly $2,000. At about $200, a 3D printed helmet is far more cost-effective.

“By sharing our experience using low-cost 3D printing, we not only prove the success in this particular case, but we also hope to accelerate the pursue in technological research and development to increase the repertoire of options offered for specific pathological entities,” the researchers concluded.

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