3D Printers Assist With Brain Surgery


We have heard about the 3D printed livers, and blood vessels; even 3D printed prosthetic arms and legs. But did you know that 3D printers are now starting to assist with brain surgery?

Yes, you read that right. Thanks in part to 3D printing, surgeons were recently able to perform a delicate form of brain surgery on a patient with a skull base tumor.

According to 3Ders.org, a Chinese hospital recently removed a brain tumor from a 38-year-old patient named Mr. Zhang. The location of the tumor made for an extremely complicated surgery, since it was located close to the optic nerve.

“The tumor was located deeply close to the skull base, and it connected with the internal carotid artery and optic nerve. The surgery would be very complicated.” said Dr. Li Xuejun, associate professor of skull base tumors at the Clinical Research Center at Xiangya Hospital in Central South University.

The hospital created a high-precision model of Mr. Zhang’s skull, and tumor. They also added nerves and blood vessels to imitate the inside of Mr. Zhang’s skull. Using a self-developed medical 3D system, and the CT scans, they were able to create an accurate visual. And then they 3D printed the brain and tumor.

This allowed doctors to become familiar with the location, the tumor, and the process that would be involved with removing such a tumor.

The model was printed using polymer materials and was in proportion of the actual skull and tumor. The doctors were then able to mimic the surgery and make precise moves on the model before even starting surgery on Mr. Zhang.

As for Mr. Zhang? He underwent successful brain surgery on January 2, 2014 – and was able to get out of bed and walk within two days.

For this case, 3D printing allowed doctors some insight, allowing them to determine the best surgical route, and analyze the surrounding areas of the brain, reducing the complications and resulting in a successful surgery for Mr. Zhang.

“With 3D printing technology, doctors no longer need to ‘imagine’ such a surgery, but can practice in advance and prepare for more precise surgery.” Li added.