Oct 19, 2015 | By Tess

Additive manufacturing technology has been helping to make huge strides within the medical world, notably within the sphere of manufacturing prosthetics. Because of accurate and detailed 3D scans, prosthetics can be made to custom fit a patient’s needs. The accuracy of 3D scanning has also opened doors and been beneficial in other medical realms, however, as the use of 3D printing technology has become prevalent for the purpose of mapping out and planning surgeries. For instance, 3D Systems recently introduced training modules for cardiology surgery using 3D models, and surgeons at a San Diego hospital were able to perform complex jaw reconstruction surgery on a patient using a 3D printed model of his jaw. Recently as well, a hospital in Bordeaux, France has made big advancements in preparing for complex kidney cancer surgery by using detailed, patient specific, and multi-colored 3D printed kidney models.

The Department of Urology and Kidney Transplantation at the University Hospital CHU Bordeaux has pioneered the use of 3D printed models in aiding the removal of tumors from kidneys using Stratasys’ Color Multi-Material 3D printing technology, which allows for the models to be 3D printed in several different colored materials. More specifically, the hospital has used three of Stratasys’ Polyjet materials in additively manufacturing the kidney models: VeroClear, a transparent material used to show the shape and volume of the whole kidney, a red material to indicate the arteries, and yellow for the excretory tract. The tumor to be removed is indicated by the mixing of Stratasys’ red and yellow materials, which creates an orange color.

CHU surgeon Dr. Jean-Christophe Bernhard explains the importance of being able to produce the models in varying colors: “The Stratasys transparent material is of fundamental importance as it allows us to see inside and estimate the depth at which the tumor resides. It enables us to see the arteries and the cavities that collect urine, so we can see if any of the arteries are touching the tumor. We need to remove the tumor, but not at the expense of the other vital elements that together enable the kidney to do its job. Finding that balance is much easier to achieve thanks to 3D printing.”

The 3D printed kidney models have been useful in several ways and have enhanced the overall process of the complex surgery. Importantly, the models have been used in the pre-surgical planning, allowing surgeons to visualize and become familiar with the particular patient’s kidney in a more accurate and thorough way than they could using a 2D scan. The pre-surgical planning is crucial in preparing the doctors for the surgery, especially in helping them to perform a kidney-sparing surgery, which is less likely to induce chronic kidney disease in the patient than having to fully remove the kidney.

“3D printing technology has effectively heralded a new dawn,” says Dr. Bernhard. “…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 himself.”

Another important benefit of having the ability to 3D print detailed kidney models is in the training of new doctors and surgeons. That is, having access to accurate, patient-specific anatomical models could greatly help in explaining and mapping out surgical procedures to students and surgeons in training. This last advantage could be crucial and have a big impact in the long-term for the medical sector, says Dr. Bernhard.

Last but certainly not least, the 3D printed models could help in explaining and making plainly clear to patients the surgeries they will undergo, an important factor in reassuring the patients of their well-being. Dr. Bernhard explains, “Describing kidney tumor removal with 2D scan or a diagram will invariably leave most patients somewhat bewildered. Presenting them with a 3D printed model that clearly shows the tumor puts them at ease and enables the patient to grasp exactly what we’re going to do.” In fact, CHU learnt through patient questionnaires that explaining the surgery with the help of a 3D printed model of their kidney increased their understanding of the procedure by over 50%.

While Dr.Bernhard himself specializes in kidney surgery, he is confident that the use of 3D printed models, especially color-coded ones, could be of utmost importance in all organ-sparing operations, from the pre-surgical planning, to the training of students, to the reassurance of patients.

The General Manager of Medical Solutions at Stratasys, Scott Rader, has expressed his excitement over the company’s technologies being used by the CHU Hospital saying, “By putting exactly what the surgeon needs to see right in his hands,  the pioneering use of Stratasys color multi-material 3D printing technology at the CHU de Bordeaux demonstrates its capability to improve medical operations by decreasing complexiies to make the surgeon’s role earier. Moreover, by enhancing procedures in this way, the prospect of organ-conserving surgery is increased, resulting in a far more favorable outcome for patients.”

 

 

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