Apr 12, 2017 | By Tess

Residents from the University of Michigan Medical School in Ann Arbor have been using 3D printed surgical models and training tools to practice and hone their surgical skills in a hands-on way. The practice has reduced the need for human cadavers.

Cher Zhao, who is currently a resident at UM, took part in the innovative surgical simulations and was given the chance to practice reconstructive cartilage grafting using a 3D printed model made from a realistically textured material. The procedure, which involves cutting cartilage from the patient’s ribs to be used as grafts elsewhere in the body, relies on meticulous and exact carving. Having adequate training is therefore crucial.

Traditionally, surgical training required real bodies, whether in the form of actual patients, anaesthetized animals, or most commonly, human cadavers. As one can imagine, these are not only difficult and complicated to come by, but—in the case of cadavers—are also expensive to store and preserve. Lifelike 3D printed models, based on actual human anatomies, have provided a more than suitable alternative.

“3D printing is bringing a whole new meaning to hands-on experience for surgeons in training,” explained David Zopf, M.D., pediatric head and neck surgeon at C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital. “Hands-on experience is critical for acquiring and improving surgical skills, especially of new and complex procedures. This is an exciting tool that not only offers trainees exposure to opportunities they otherwise wouldn’t have but that also allows them to demonstrate proficiency of skills before being performed on children.”

A recent article published in Otolaryngology-Head and Neck Surgery, for which Zopf was a senior author, outlines the ways in which 3D printed surgical training models are beneficial, offering practical experience to trainees in a cost-efficient way. At the Mott Children’s Hospital, 3D printing has been used as a tool for nearly six years now, and its applications within the hospital are continuing to grow.

For instance, the technology is being used to make 3D printed splints, which have helped to save the lives of infants suffering from tracheobronchomalacia, a condition that causes the child’s windpipe to collapse, resulting in breathing difficulty. 3D printing has also been used to create models of fetuses, which have helped doctors prepare for tricky birthing situations, and even to make a replica of a patient’s skull to carefully plan a tumor removal operation.

Reconstructive cartilage grafting is the latest procedure that is benefitting from the use of 3D printed models. As Zopf commented: “Currently, a surgeon in training has scarce opportunity to carve cartilage graft for this type of procedure. We want to see if 3D printing can accelerate and enhance surgical training.”

Zhao was one of eighteen surgical trainees who participated in a UM otolaryngology head and neck surgery dissection course last year, which involved a 3D printed model of a human cartilage graft. The 3D printed model was based off a CT scan of a young patient’s rib, and was used as a mold to make cornstarch and silicone based models (which have a more realistic texture).

According to the trainees, the course offered them valuable insight and helped to advance their surgical skills. As Zhao said: “You only get one chance to carve a harvested graft from a patient’s rib, so you have to do it perfectly the first time. It takes years of practice to learn the technical skills to do it. This was a very realistic experience and what’s great is you can keep printing dozens of these models at a time so you can practice over and over again.”



Posted in 3D Printing Application



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