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One of the more intriguing 3D Printing Opportunities for surgeons lies in the use of this technology for making "practice runs" in difficult surgical procedures. When time is tight and there is little room for error during an operation, practicing on a simulated model that familiarizes surgeons on the situation would be greatly beneficial. There wouldn't be any surprises when the operation was done for real and if any difficulties are encountered during the practice run, surgeons would be well prepared for that same difficulty during the real operation. Both the surgeon and patient stand to benefit from this practice.
Surgeons from Japan did exactly this when they used a 3D printer to create an exact scale model of a kidney afflicted with cancerous tumors. The model included an exact replica of the tumors as well as all of the blood vessels. The model was transparent which allowed the surgeons to see and get familiar with the locations of the kidney's blood vessels.
This type of surgery requires that the blood flow to the kidney be interrupted. Surgeons must complete the operation before the kidney tissues die from the lack of blood. Normally, the blood flow interruption for this type of surgery lasts for about 22 minutes.
However, thanks to their practice run with the 3D printed model, the surgeons reduced this interruption time to only 8 minutes. The practice on the model familiarized the surgeons with the "terrain" so that they knew exactly what to do during the operation thus reducing the time requirement.
According to the lead researcher Dr. Yoshiyuki Shiga:
"The use of this 'hands-on' model system gave us a 3D anatomical understanding of the kidney and the tumor"
"We also found that where we had to remove part of the kidney, the fact that we knew the exact location of the blood vessels helped us greatly"
A 3D scan of the cancerous kidney was made using computer tomography. A 3D printer then used this information to print the model. The modeled tumors were made of a different material from the kidney which allowed the surgeons to know the exact extent of the tumors.
The use of 3D printing for creating personalized models to assist surgeons is a technique that can be applied to any surgical procedure where high accuracy is important. Tumor removal from an area where a small mistake can impair important motor functioning or even brain functioning comes to mind. This technique will make possible, tumor removal in situations that were previously deemed inoperable. This is an opportunity for surgeons to improve the outcomes of difficult surgeries and thus improve the patient's chances of survival.