Even though 3D-printed organs are still a long way away, some hospitals are already using 3D printers. How? The staff of a specialized hospital IKEM in Prague, Czech Republic, uses 3D printers to print models of organs during the preparation for transplantations. The model is used as a tool for doctors, who can examine the organ before the operation begins, so they can detect possible complications even before the procedure – the ability to physically touch the organ in form of a model has proven to be very helpful. The donor then takes the model of their kidney as a gift after the operation.
The Institute of Clinical and Experimental Medicine (IKEM) in Prague, which focuses on the newest medical procedures, performs several kidney transplants every month. In 2018, to simplify operations, IKEM’s doctors decided to test-drive a project involving 3D printing in the organ transplantation process. One of the important factors for a successful operation is the quality of preparation, and at this stage, the 3D printing capabilities have proven to be the most beneficial. The doctors can print and work with an accurate model of the organ to be transplanted. In the case of the kidney, it is very useful to capture the individual uniqueness of the organ, which will provide the surgeon with the necessary information.
The process starts with CT images that show the location of the kidney in the body. Then, by connecting separate parts, a full model is segmented, and the result is turned into a 3D object in specialized software. The object is then sliced in a slicing app and 3D printed in real-life scale using ABS material. The print takes from 12 to 18 hours.
The model is then post-processed and handed over to the team performing the operation, which allows the doctors to prepare for potential risks before surgery and see all the details of the unique organ. After the operation, the 3D print is given to the donor as a gift.
After testing this procedure, IKEM decided to buy two Original Prusa I3 MK3 printers, which now print 4 to 6 kidneys per month. In addition, they also use printers to create test models for other parts of the body. One such example is the 3D model of an aorta created using blood segmentation. The model is created to test catheter insertion, so the feasibility of the operation can be tested beforehand. As a result, potential risks during surgery are reduced.
“So far, we have been able to look at organ models only in a software visualization on a screen,” says application manager Milan Bergman. “Today, we are able to print the model, which helps the doctors, students, and even the patient. 3D printing was a completely new technology for us, but we quickly got a grasp of it and we find it very enjoyable.”