Treatment of unicoronal craniosynostosis is a surgically challenging problem, due to the involvement of coronal suture and cranial base, with complex asymmetries of the calvarium and orbit. Several techniques for correction have been described, including surgical bony remodeling, early strip craniotomy with orthotic helmet remodeling and distraction. Current distraction devices provide unidirectional forces and have had very limited success. Nitinol is a shape memory alloy that can be programmed to the shape of a patient-specific anatomy by means of thermal treatment.
In this work, a methodology to produce a nitinol patient-specific distractor is presented: computer tomography images of a 16-month-old patient with unicoronal craniosynostosis were processed to create a 3-dimensional model of his skull and define the ideal shape postsurgery. A mesh was produced from a nitinol sheet, formed to the ideal skull shape and heat treated to be malleable at room temperature. The mesh was afterward deformed to be attached to a rapid prototyped plastic skull, replica of the patient initial anatomy. The mesh/skull construct was placed in hot water to activate the mesh shape memory property: the deformed plastic skull was computed tomography scanned for comparison of its shape with the initial anatomy and with the desired shape, showing that the nitinol mesh had been able to distract the plastic skull to a shape close to the desired one.
The shape-memory properties of nitinol allow for the design and production of patient-specific devices able to deliver complex, preprogrammable shape changes.