Doctors have performed complex surgery successfully on a woman’s tangled brain aneurysm after 3D printing an entire replica of her brain blood vessel anatomy. By physically visualizing the exact problem, surgeons were able to get a detailed idea of how to fix it. This also allowed the surgeons to practice time and again the techniques they would need to use in the real-life surgery. In addition to making sure that the surgeons got the operation right, it also showed them that the tools they were going to use were inadequate, and meant that they developed new ones for the job.
New York-state resident Theresa Flint was diagnosed with a brain aneurysm after attending hospital with increasing headaches and a loss of vision. This occurs when a section of the blood vessels becomes weak, causing it to bulge with blood and run the risk of hemorrhaging within the brain. After CT scans, the doctors realized that the conventional fix for this – inserting a metal mesh into the vessel to give it extra support – could not be achieved with the positioning of the aneurysm in Ms Flint’s brain.
In a similar way to how creating scale models of buildings allows architects to properly visualize what they are designing, by printing off the surgical problem, doctors can identify more than they could otherwise achieve with just 2D scans. Not only that, but the models are also printed using special plastics that mimic human tissue, giving them the same feel and texture.
“It was a serious problem from the standpoint that she had an extremely irregular brain aneurysm that would be tricky to treat with micro-surgery,” Dr. Adnan Siddiqui, who directed the operations performed at the Jacobs Institute in Buffalo, told BBC News. “There are some commonalities between all human beings, but at the end of the day our vascular tree is as different as our fingerprints.”
This is not the first time that surgeons have used the growing 3D printing technology to help them perform better surgeries. Earlier this year doctors created a model of an 11-month-old baby’s congenital heart defect, practiced the high-risk surgery on the replica, and then used the exact same technique with success on the tiny infant. The advantage is not just in making sure that surgeons can perfect complex movements with precision, but it also shortens surgery time and thus the time the patient is under anaesthetic, which improves their chances of recovery.
While printing 3D models of surgical problems might not become routine for the majority of cases, the fact that the possibility is there for complex issues is an invaluable tool for doctors.