We’ve regularly covered developments in the latest technology in the world of 3D printing and its various applications. A new use case may, however, be the most surprising yet and certainly one of the most valuable. British surgeons recently employed 3D printing in the kidney transplant process that saved the life of a 2-year old boy.
A team at south London’s St Thomas’ NHS Foundation trust were faced with the tricky situation of having to use an adult’s kidney for the transplant of Dexter Clark, a two-year old born with serious kidney problems. His father was a donor match and readily agreed for one of his own kidneys to be removed and transplanted into his infant son. However, there was a major question over whether the kidney of a fully-grown man would fit into the child’s abdomen.
Surgeons used the latest 3D printing technology to scan both father Brendan’s kidney and Dexter’s abdomen in the planning of the surgery. The two 3D printed moulds were then used to see if, first, the kidney would fit in the child’s abdomen and, secondly, what the best way to place it would be. The moulds were taken into the surgery and allowed the surgeons to meticulously pre-plan what would inevitably be a very tricky operation.
Usually such cases would require both donor and recipient to undergo exploratory surgery before the main surgery to determine if the organ and abdomen are compatible. This increases the length of time required to complete to transplant as well as the expense and hours hard-pressed surgery teams are required to allocate.
The 3D printing technique trialled in Dexter’s surgery is now considered to hold the potential to significantly enhance the decision making process during pre-surgical planning as well as during the operation.
3D printing is proving to have a particularly rich array of use cases in medicine, which will only increase as the technology becomes more advanced. As well as using the technology to print to-scale models of different parts of patient bodies, which can be helpful in many circumstances from surgery planning to creating custom prosthetics, we are getting close to being able to bio-print body parts and human tissue.
Researchers at Harvard University are making progress in using 3D printing technology to bio-print blood vessels. This, it is believed, will eventually lead to the ability to print tissue with blood supply. Printing heart valves, ear cartilage, patches for broken skulls and even ‘bone scaffolding’ that new bone will grow around are all currently at various stages of promising progress in research projects.