Despite having millions of dollars of imaging technology at their disposal, surgeons often have to wait until they open a patient up before deciding the best course of action. Even for the simplest procedure, knowing the actual size and composition of the affected body part can make all the difference. When British patient John Cousins collapsed in pain from appendicitis and a 3.5cm "stags head" kidney stone, he wanted to provide specialists with as much information on his affected organ as he could, so he decided to 3D-print a replica model of it.
BBC News reports that surgeons at Southampton General Hospital referenced the model during the two hour operation to remove the stone, allowing them to find the best point of entry, ensure greater precision and generally perform the surgery quicker. Following the operation on Monday, surgeon Bhaskar Somani is already planning a trial with 20 other patients at the hospital to show how 3D printed models can aid future cases. The technology may soon let doctors grow new organs or create new skin for burn victims, but it may also help get patients come off the operating table quicker too.
The use of 3D models to help with surgery is becoming more common. In fact, a cardiovascular team at Miami Children's Hospital recently used one to plan a complicated procedure for a 4-year-old girl. At the Children's Hospital in Boston, 3D-printed models have become a regular tool for prep when there's a need to examine tiny details, like that of a baby's brain or skull. The process being used here employs multiple materials, so skin, tissue, bone and blood vessel behavior can all be simulated. While some doctors may prefer to use detailed imagery and scans, those who'd rather do some hands-on research are sure to benefit from these developments.