3D printing of body parts helps reduce surgery length

Formlabs has created a new 3D printing process for modeling real human organs and body parts before surgery.

“The use of 3D printing in medicine allows us to pull the patients’ anatomy off of a computer screen and put it into the physician’s hands,” says Todd Goldstein, director of the 3D Design and Innovation Center at Northwell Health, the hospital network. “This type of technology is a game changer for all parties involved, as it allows for physicians to better visualize the pathology, allows for patients to truly see what treatment is needed, and allows for more precise, patient-specific treatments across almost all specialties.”

The new system, which combines 10 smaller printers with robotics so the process can happen automatically with less involvement from medical staff, can help the hospitals scale up the use of 3D printing. With a 3D model, a surgeon can look at a specific tumor or deformity, for example, and plan exactly how a surgery should proceed before cutting a patient open. That can make an operation safer and also make it shorter; less time on the operating table also means that patients can recover more quickly afterward.

The system, called the Form Cell, takes data from CT and MRI scans and translates them into a replica of a specific body part, which can be used both prior to and during a surgery. “We’re talking about hours saved before a surgery, and even hours in the OR,” says Gaurav Manchanda, director of healthcare at Formlabs. One 2017 study of children’s surgeries found that surgeries were as much as 45 minutes shorter with the use of the models. A study using Northwell data, not yet published, found that using models in complex cases reduced the length of surgeries by about 10%.

Why its hot

3D printing is becoming more and more mainstream thanks to its increasing accessibility. People have more power than ever before. Wearables give us insights into our health that previously could only come from a doctor. With 3D printing, we can download plans straight from the web and create items right in our homes. Maybe one day we can decorate an entire apartment with furniture by downloading the plans from IKEA. This example is just another of many that show how 3D printing is making once complex processes easier, even advanced surgery.