A practice surgical procedure on a 3D-printed tumor has helped surgeons successfully remove the tricky real one from a 5-year-old boy in Spain.
The boy was diagnosed with neuroblastoma, a common form of cancer in children that typically occurs around the stomach. Because of the locations of these types of tumors, surgery to remove them requires copious skill to not slice an artery and put the patient's life in danger. After two unsuccessful attempts to remove the child's tumor, it appeared inoperable.
"We tried the surgery twice but we failed because we could not access," head surgeon Jaume Mora said at a press conference Wednesday. "Instead of surrendering, we tried to find a solution."
Mora and his team at the Hospital Sant Joan de Deu in Barcelona turned to the CIM Foundation at the Polytechnic University of Catalonia to create a 3D-printed replica of the boy's tumor so they could perfect their technique ahead of the surgery.
The team used a multi-material 3D printer to print hardened arteries and organs surrounding a translucent, soft resin so they could practice removing the tumor without damaging the boy's innards. They also built a tumor-free replica of the child's insides to see what he should look like once the cancer had been removed.
After undertaking a practice run a week and a half before the scheduled surgery, the surgeons successfully removed the tumor from the boy's body. And they're happy to report that they expect him to fully recover without the need for additional surgeries. In fact, the team and the hospital were so impressed with how the procedure went, they've commissioned 3D-printed models for two other patients.
This case represents one of the first times a personalized, 3D-printed organ has been used to successfully simulate a surgery, though it almost certainly won't be the last. And it's once again exciting to see that technology commonly used to print jewelry, figurines, and iPhone cases can also help medical professionals save lives.