Staring at a tumour

Additive manufacturing is changing the way many sectors approach product development. However, outside of engineering, it is also being used by surgeons to revolutionise the way they approach major operations.

Using Stratasys’ 3D printers, physicians are scanning livers and kidneys with tumours so they can carefully plan the removal. They use the models during pre-surgery planning of the complicated procedure to help perform precise and successful kidney-sparing surgery and improving patient outcomes.

Simon Brandon, marketing manager UK at Stratasys, says: “Surgeons are able to look at, pick up, and really look at what they are about to perform an operation on and think, ‘how am I going to remove this?’. They can sit around the table, see all the veins and main arteries around it, each in a different colour to provide an accurate picture of what they will actually see during the next operation so they can work out how best to perform the surgery. Before they might have to look at a 2D scan or diagram.”

It is the ability visualise the kidney as a real copy of the organ that will be operated on, that surgeons find the greatest aid.

Dr Jean-Christophe Bernhard is a surgeon using the technology from the department of Urology and Kidney Transplantation at the University Hospital in Bordeaux, France, says: “A scan gives us good information, but it’s in 2D. This relies on the surgeon to mentally reconstruct the tumour volume in 3D and estimate its location inside of the total volume of the kidney. The same process has to be done to clearly understand the relations between the tumour, the vessels (arteries and veins) and the collecting system. As you can imagine, this is difficult and time-consuming for the surgeon.

“Conversely, having a 3D printed kidney model in your hands that corresponds specifically to that of the patient you’re going to operate on quite literally offers me a view from a new perspective. The only thing more accurate than that is the patient.”

The pre-surgery planning has become vital in identifying and avoiding damage to the delicate nearby arteries and vessels which can result in complete kidney removal. Sparing the patient’s kidney is important because it reduces the chance of subsequently suffering from chronic kidney disease.

The 3D printed models are also used to improve surgeon training, as well as enhancing the explanatory process towards patients.

Justin Cunningham

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