Sep 18, 2015 | By Kira

Doctors at the Great Ormond Street Hospital in London used a custom-made 3D printed windpipe to practice a delicate surgery, reducing the amount of time six year-old Katie Parke had to spend on the operation table and ensuring a safer procedure.

Katie Parke with her 3D printed windpipe

The sheer number of stories related to groundbreaking medical discoveries and operations that we have covered in 2015 alone is a testament to the life-saving qualities of 3D printing. For example, 3D printing technology has been used to replace a cancer patient’s vertebrae, to safely separate conjoined twins, and even to replace a two year-old’s heart. Recently, 3D printed parts have also allowed for the first ever pectus excavatum correction surgery, the world’s first pediatric bilateral hand transplant, and an unprecedented sternum and rib replacement surgery. While the list could go on, when it comes to human lives, and particularly those of young children, each story is as equally touching and important as the last.

In the case of Katie Parke, originally from Northern Ireland, the 3D printed windpipe allowed doctors to practice her surgery before she was even on the operating table, reducing not only the time spent under anesthetic, but also the potential for life-threatening complications.

Katie suffers from pulmonary alveolar proteinosis (PAP), a lung disease in which grainy deposits build up in the microscopting air scas in her lungs, making it dangerously hard to breathe. The rare disease can be caused by cancer, infection, or environmental exposure to dust or chemicals, and in the most extreme cases can require lung transplants. The most common form of treatment, however, is to regularly wash the lungs with sterile saltwater.

To perform this treatment, doctors must ventilate one lung while the other is cleaned. The time-consuming and risky part is that, during the operation, surgeons must try multiple combinations of differently sized tubes to find the right one that fits each patient.

Thanks to the 3D printed rubber windpipe, which was created based off of a CT scan of Katie herself and therefore made precisely to measure, the Great Ormond team was able to practice the surgery ahead of time and know in advance exactly which tools they would need.

“It’s amazing to see what a tiny bit of kit can do,” said Katie’s mom, Sharon Parke. “Katie’s had brilliant treatment at Great Ormond Street and now she can even go horse riding, which was unthinkable before.”

Dr. Owen Arthurs, a consultant radiologist who organized the study, said that not only did it make Katie’s procedure easier and safer, but that 3D printed models such as this could also be used for practice in other scenarios, and could be used to train new doctors. “Being able to print a part of the anatomy is quite powerful. It’s really important to train the next generation of doctors and make them better.”

In addition to assisting in life-save operations, 3D printing technology has also been a major part of recent medical breakthroughs that could improve medical research, the production of medicines and vaccines, and patient diagnoses.



Posted in 3D Printing Applications



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