3D Printing Enters the Operating Room
A major focus of 3D printing is and has been for a while the promise for eventual home-grown organs that can help shorten long transplant waiting lists and ultimately save lives. But one application of 3D-printed tissues that hasn't received much attention is the ability of these lab-grown organs to provide surgeons with a practice environment for upcoming surgeries.
This is a particularly important issue when using part of a parent's liver for transplantation into a child. The organ must be trimmed to effectively fit inside the smaller chest cavity of a child, but also needs to remain healthy and be able to perform all of its intended functions effectively.
So in one hospital in Japan, surgeons have turned to additive manufacturing to create a replica of the donor organ that they can then use to help determine where carving ought best occur.
While actual transplantation of 3D-printed organs might still be a long way off, this application has already made an impact: last month a liver was successfully transplanted into a child, thanks in part to the 3D-printed replica.
Currently, two of the world's largest 3D printer makers, Stratasys and 3D Systems, offer machines capable of printing human organs. By using medical scans, doctors are able to replicate both internal and external structures of a liver or kidney via translucent acrylic resins or polyvinyl alcohol. The latter is better suited to this application, as the material is able to simulate the wetness and texture of the real organ, making it better for surgical cutting.
The entire printing process, starting with converting a medical scan to a printable file, takes a few days.
While this can be a setback, the major obstacle facing most hospitals is the high cost of specialized 3D printers such as these. Advanced printers designed to create organ models can cost anywhere between $250,000 and $500,000, which has been a barrier to entry in many small hospitals.
And because these printers are so complex, hospitals would also need to factor in the cost of hiring an engineer to operate the printer and convert CT and MRI scans into a printable format.
But ultimately, the cost of lives outweighs the cost of a printer. Having organ replicas such as these could help give less experienced surgeons the confidence and practice they need to perform at their best and put their patients at ease.
Full story at the Wall Street Journal