3D printing makes complex procedure easier

GOSHAn accurate replica model of a trachea, created using a 3D printer, was used to trial a complex procedure with incredible accuracy prior to a child undergoing anesthetics at GOSH. The model allowed for equipment that best matched to individual patients in both size and shape to be selected prior to surgery, reducing the time spent on the operating table.

3D printing has shown potential in creating models that can help doctors to explain to patients in a visual way what is happening inside them and how surgical procedures can treat medical problems. A team of clinicians and researchers at GOSH show that it could also make complex surgical procedures safer for children.

After the success of using it in a number of cardiac conditions, the team demonstrated that a simple CT scan of a patient’s chest can be used to create anatomically accurate 3D tracheal models that allow procedures to be trialled by surgeons and anaesthetists before operating on the patient. The models are completely personalized for individual patients and can be created in a matter of just hours.

The technique was tested in a 6-year-old patient with a lung condition that requires repeated ‘lung-washing’ treatments in order to clear dangerous build-ups of material in these organs. During the procedure one lung is ventilated while the other lung is washed out and although this process is relatively straightforward to perform in adults, the tubes used to ventilate and wash out the lungs are large and sometimes difficult to use in children. Multiple tubes therefore have to be positioned with great precision as quickly as possible in order for it to be safe in children who have little normal lung capacity with which to breathe.

After taking the CT scan, the team 3D printed a ‘made-to-measure’ tube that was an exact replica of the patient’s trachea in terms of shape and size. This allowed the anaesthetic team to match up the most appropriately sized tubes and practice their insertion into the airways prior to surgery. This made the actual surgical procedure quicker and more efficient.