Sep 14, 2015 | By Alec

Medical applications of 3D printing have become very popular and widely successful over the past few years, and nowadays we are constantly learning of how hitherto life-threatening and complex procedures are becoming much safer. Especially academic hospitals in China and the west have been steadily adopting 3D printers, but they’re a hit elsewhere too. Just recently, a team of surgeons from Blumenau in Southern Brazil have used 3D printed surgical models to increase the likelihood of success of an operation on a tragic six-year-old girl suffering from orbital hypertelorism.

The hospital in Blumenau has been very enthusiastic about what 3D printing can do, and that optimism is likely only increased after this successful case. There, a team led by craniofacial surgeon João Justino Acioli Vasconcelos and paediatric neurosurgeon Charles Kondageski opted to use 3D printing in a particularly difficult and rare case. The six-year-old was suffering from orbital hypertelorism, a complication that occurs during prenatal development, and essentially consists of the eye sockets failing to rotate to their ordinary position – the result is a deformed face, with a lot of bone structure growing in between the eyes.

Dealing with this issue is complex and high risk, as surgeons are forced to work in an area close to lots of vital organs and blood vessels. Any mistakes also result in further deformation. The surgical team therefore decided to develop a 3D printed replica of the girl’s skull to optimally prepare the surgery before actually going in. The replica was also at hand during surgery and definitely contributed to the six-hour procedure’s success.

According to one of the doctors, the main advantage of 3D printed surgical models is being able to plan the surgery and ensure greater safety for the patient. ‘I've done several surgeries without such a model, but we also used to live without cellphones, right? It is not a matter of necessity; it’s about being able to use technology in our favor,’ Kondageski explains. ‘After spending some hours studying the 3D printed skull, we practiced the crucial bone incisions on it and also used it as reference during de actual surgical procedure. Having a model to manipulate, as an addition to the imaging exams, was very important for the success of the final result.’

Fortunately, the child’s family also improved of the initiative, and were so positive about it that they already requested the use of more 3D printed models to be made for future surgeries, if possible. ‘Because of her illness, this was the second surgery my daughter had to go through and she has at least one more to do in her adolescence. Her first surgery was when she was only nine-months-old and I don’t recall the doctors using a 3D-printed model similar to her body,’ mother Christiane Felisbero explained. ‘When Dr. João showed me the skull, I was very glad that it was identical to the X-ray and it made me more confident.’

The surgeons themselves were also very pleased with the 3D printing procedure, and have already commissioned the next model for a forthcoming spine reconstruction surgery, which will give the patient a few extra centimeters in height.

As they further explained, the same principles we’ve previously seen have been applied to make this skull model. MRI images and CT scans were used to make this surgical model, which took a massive 57 hours to 3D print. Finishing work to ensure complete accuracy took another 16 hours, and all the work was outsourced to Brazilian-based 3D printing service bk3D. According to the company’s managing partner, this is just one of the ways in which 3D printing can be used to improve medical practices. ‘There are numerous possibilities for 3D printing to aid healthcare, from surgical procedure planning to the replacement of entire bioprinted organs. We still have a long way to go, but it is already possible to enjoy the benefits that engineering offers,’ he said. But as 3D prints are already used to save lives now, we can only hope they will become common in every hospital around the globe very soon. 



Posted in 3D Printing Applications



Maybe you also like:


Leave a comment:

Your Name:


Subscribe us to Feeds twitter facebook   

About provides the latest news about 3D printing technology and 3D printers. We are now seven years old and have around 1.5 million unique visitors per month.

News Archive