Jan 22, 2018 | By Tess

A 3D printed surgical model of a kidney proved to be a critical tool in helping a team of Belfast surgeons complete an extremely complex surgery. The operation, which was an overall success, has changed the life of a young mother from the Northern Irish city.

Belfast City Hospital, where a 3D printed kidney model helped surgeons complete a complex transplant

(Image: The Irish News)

Pauline Fenton, a 22-year-old mother from Belfast, was suffering from end stage kidney disease. In order to stay alive, the young woman relied on dialysis treatments, which were taking up much of her time and inhibiting time she could spend with her child.

In a positive turn of events for Fenton, her father was found to be a suitable kidney donor, despite having an incompatible blood group.

Unfortunately, this news came certain strings attached, as doctors uncovered a potentially cancerous cyst on the father’s donor kidney. Still, the doctors were confident that with enough preparation, they would be able to remove the cyst from the donor kidney and subsequently implant the incompatible organ  into the young woman.

To ready themselves for the complex multi-part surgery, the team from Belfast City Hospital reached out to local medical 3D printing company axial3D to assist in the preparation of a patient-specific surgical guide.

Based on a CT scan of the father’s donor kidney, axial3D was able to reproduce an almost exact 3D printed model of the donor kidney, which allowed the team of surgeons pinpoint the exact size and location of the cyst they had to remove.

According to the doctors, the 3D printed kidney model proved to be an essential part of planning for the complex operation.

Tim Brown, Consultant Transplant Surgeon, explained: “In this case, our donor’s kidney was the best possible option for his daughter’s life saving transplant, so we had to ensure precise and complete excision of the cyst to retrieve maximum healthy tissue for transplantation.”

“We planned and rehearsed the surgery precisely, using an exact replica of the donor kidney containing the size and position of cyst, so my team knew the precise procedure required in the operating theatre. This level of insight is just not achievable with standard preoperative imaging,” he continued.

Tim Brown, Consultant Transplant Surgeon

In other words, the detailed 3D printed kidney model offered the surgical team more insight into Fenton’s father’s anatomy than 2D images or even 3D imaging on a screen could. The doctors say that being able to hold and tactilely examine the kidney model was advantageous to them in planning the best steps for the surgical procedure.

axial3D founder Daniel Crawford is getting used to this type of work. “We work with surgeons with the core aim to improve patient outcomes; reduce operating times and ultimately help advance surgical education and planning for the future,” he said. “We’re proud that our technology can have profound positive impacts on improving the quality and length of patients’ lives and we’re delighted that our work provided significant benefit for this family.”

Ultimately, the cyst removal and transplant were a success, and Pauline Fenton now has the chance for a new life. According to a report, kidney transplants are not only beneficial to the receiving patient, however, as they also benefit health services in the long run by reducing treatment costs. (A single patient using dialysis can cost over £30,000 a year, while post-transplant costs are only about £5,000 a year.)

“Improving patient outcome is at the heart of what we do,” concluded Crawford. “We believe in today’s economy, where cost saving and efficiency is at the forefront of the NHS agenda, 3D printing offers an exciting opportunity for hospitals to reduce costs, elevate care, and most importantly, improve patient outcomes. Now that 3D prints are available via the NHS in Northern Ireland, we look forward to supporting more surgeons and patients with this technology.”

In addition to its innovative use of 3D printed surgical models, the operation was also the first case of a “complete excision of a Bosniak 2F renal cyst from a donor kidney without the requirement of revision surgery.”



Posted in 3D Printing Application



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