3D Printed Models Are Saving Lives


A team of cardiothoracic and vascular Surgeons at the University of Mainz in Germany have turned to 3D printing to transform surgical planning procedures, particularly in complex, life-threatening cases. Typically, these are aortic illnesses that require immediate attention and complex surgical treatment. What caught my attention is that the surgeons are using 3D-printed models for diagnosis and surgical planning.

Previously, the surgeons used CT scans to analyze and diagnose patients, studying up to 2,000 images per case. The process took a long time and afterward, the doctors still couldn’t be certain about what they were looking at across the myriad of images. Now, they are using Stratasys PolyJet 3D printing models of the patient's anatomy. The models give them a better understanding of how to treat the issue, and the process has changed the hospital’s surgical planning process.

For example, in a recent case, a 53-year-old woman had an aortic malformation near her heart and was suffering from a bulging blood vessel on her neck. She had been turned down by several other hospitals because it was a complex problem and a potentially risky operation. But when she came to the university, the team of surgeons ditched her CT Scans, and instead, 3D printed a model. The model not only helped them find the source and severity of the problem, but they used it as a point of reference during the operation.

In a lot of these cases, surgeons implant a small stent through the arteries to be placed in the affected area of the aorta. They normally use monitors, but now, they are basically performing the surgery twice. First, as a simulation on the patient-specific 3D-printed model to make sure the stent is the right size and shape, and then on the patient.

This practice is saving up to 45 minutes of operating time. When surgeries take 2-4 hours, we’re talking as much as a 40% time savings, which could be the difference between a patient living and dying.

Zero For the Heroes in San FranciscoNext Story »