Before 11-year-old London Secor had surgery to remove a tumor in her pelvis, she had the usual pre-op appointments at Mayo Clinic. But there was another step in her surgical workup.
A team at Mayo created a 3-D model of London's pelvis "scaled to size and showing her bladder, veins, blood vessels, ureters and the tumor" to guide her physicians as they prepped for the procedure, according to the Wall Street Journal. "Members of the medical team were able to hold the model in their hands, examine it and plot a surgical approach that would allow them to remove the entire tumor," reports the publication.
In cases like London's, that kind of practice can make perfect. "There is nothing like holding a 3-D model to understand a complicated anatomical procedure," Peter Rose, M.D., tells the Journal. Dr. Rose, who removed the tumor, added that "the model helped us understand the anatomy that was altered by the tumor and helped us orient ourselves for our cuts around it."
It was one of 500 or so 3-D models printed at Mayo last year. The models are created using data from MRIs, CT scans and ultrasounds, and then printed, layer by layer, "using materials ranging from plastics to metal to human tissue," according to the Journal.
It's a costly — and slow — process. The model that doctors used to prepare for London's surgery took 60 hours to print. But for complicated cases like hers, the 3-D models can be a game changer. Until recently, a tumor like London's would likely have meant amputation, the Journal reports. The ability to visualize and plan the surgery on a model helped the surgical team to save her leg.
Mayo Clinic's 3-D modeling efforts began in 2008, when a team was preparing for another complicated surgery: the separation of conjoined twins Abby and Belle Carlsen. "What we quickly realized back then was the accurate representation of data taken from CT and MRI scans was incredibly important in the planning processes in these complex surgeries," Jonathan Morris, M.D., a neuroradiologist at Mayo Clinic, tells Twin Cities Business.
Today, teams in every surgical specialty at Mayo use models to plan difficult cases. To keep up with the growing demand, Mayo "has invested in four industrial 3-D printers in the Department of Engineering and three printers of various technologies in the Department of Radiology," according to the Mayo Clinic News Network. Some of those printers "routinely run nonstop," the publication reports.
"Once people get (a model) in their hands, they realize how useful it is because your brain is meant to interact in the physical world," Dr. Morris says. "A vast majority of your brainpower goes to touch."
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