People seek to extract the greatest benefit out of technology, continuously adapting it to their needs. And any technology that allows people to unleash their creative potential and ingenuity is here to stay. 3D Printing technology offers that possibility. It has shown such tremendous versatility that people from every profession are asking themselves: how do I make use of it? Doctors have also engaged with this question and have come up with innovative answers. Their ultimate aim is to 3D print living human organs that could be used in organ transplant. But that development is still sometime away, so doctors in the meantime are 3D printing models of our organs to help them in performing complex surgeries such as organ transplant. Here’s a look at how a 3D printed kidney saved a child’s life.
Lucy Boucher was only three when she underwent the first kidney transplant where an adult sized kidney was transplanted in a child. That ordeal was the result of a heart failure that starved her kidney of oxygen. Her doctors were able to cure her heart, but her kidneys had started failing. Fortunately her father Chris’ kidney was a perfect match, which meant she could survive without the need for regular dialysis. But a kidney transplant is a complicated procedure even for adults; Lucy’s tender age only served to compound the problem. But surgeons at Guys and St Thomas’ Hospital in London were ready to undertake the challenge with the assistance of 3D Printing technology.
The challenge was to fit her father’s adult sized kidney into her baby sized abdomen. Because of Lucy’s young age they could not leave any room for improvisation during the surgery. Everything needed to be executed perfectly. So they brought technology to their aid. They used the scans of her abdomen and Chris’ kidney to 3D print organs. The 3D printed kidney model and abdomen were created to scale and with density similar to real organs. This allowed the doctors to carefully plan each step of the surgery beforehand. Having life size replicas of the organs not only gave surgeons the ability to simulate the operating procedure but also the confidence to carry out the same. The most complicated aspect of the surgery was finding the right position to place the adult kidney in Lucy’s smaller abdomen. The problem was resolved by experimenting with various positions using the 3D printed kidney model. The end result was a successful recovery of Lucy and her father. Lucy is now living a life as any other child of her age would. Thus 3D printing human organs albeit replicas can be immensely beneficial for doctors and patients alike.
Another similar demonstration of the usefulness of 3D Printing technology is the case of William Fenton and his daughter Pauline who suffered from kidney failure and was relegated to dialysis. Like Lucy, Pauline was also lucky to have found a donor in her father William but the presence of a potentially cancerous cyst on William’s kidney impeded the transplant. And like Lucy’s case, doctors at the Belfast City Hospital in Northern Ireland resorted to 3D Printing. They used the CT scans to 3D print the kidney. The 3D printed kidney replica along with the cyst was then used to study how to remove it. The 3D printed kidney model made it possible for the doctors to save the maximum possible amount of kidney tissue when William finally went under the knife.
Though surgeons use digital imaging to prep themselves up before an operation, use of 3D printed models provides an insight that cannot be achieved with digital imaging. It allows the doctors to reduce the risk associated with such complex operations. And there are other organ transplant surgeries, as well, where 3D printing is assisting doctors to tackle complexity. One such story is of a man who lost most of his face when he shot himself in the face in an attempt to end his life. It left him without a nose and a jaw. Read more on how 3D printing helped give that man a new face.