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3D-printed vascular systems help doctors practice for your surgery

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It's safe to say that you want your doctors to know exactly what they're doing when performing surgery. But how do they train for a vascular operation, which is both extremely tricky and unique to your anatomy? By using 3D printing, that's how. MakerBot's parent company Stratasys is teaming with physicians to create 3D-printed replicas of patients' vascular systems, giving surgeons a way to practice before they poke around your blood vessels. The models use flexible photopolymers (that is, light-sensitive polymers) to recreate the feel of organic tissue, so you don't have to worry that the surgery team is only used to working with hardened plastic.

It's hard to quantify the results from an effort like this, but Stratasys does have evidence suggesting these dry runs help. In one case, doctors used the 3D-printed model to change their strategy for repairing an aneurysm -- they realized their original plan wasn't going to work. If this vascular practice takes off, it could do a lot to both reduce mishaps and spare you from visiting the hospital more than necessary.

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