Check out this excellent story about a little girl named Violet born with a rare defect, a Tessier facial cleft, that left a fissure in her skull, and how 3D-printing is helping doctors take on these kinds of complicated surgeries. The piece is in today's The New York Times and written by health reporter and CommonHealth contributor Karen Weintraub, who offers a little background:
Violet Pietrok was born nearly two years ago without a nose. Her eyes were set so far apart that her mom compared her vision to a bird of prey's. There was a gap in the skull behind her forehead.
There was no question she would need drastic surgery to lead a normal life. But few surgeons have seen patients with problems as complex as Violet's. Her parents, Alicia Taylor and Matt Pietrok, who live near Salem, Oregon, brought her to Boston Children's Hospital, to Dr. John Meara, who had operated before on kids with Tessier facial clefts.
As part of Children's Pediatric Simulator Program, Meara was able to get several 3D printed models made of Violet's skull. By handling and slicing up the models, he got a better sense of what had gone wrong and how best to fix it.
Such 3D-printing is becoming more commonplace in complex surgeries, allowing doctors views and knowledge they can't get on their screens.
From the Times story:
Such 3-D-printed models are transforming medical care, giving surgeons new perspectives and opportunities to practice, and patients and their families a deeper understanding of complex procedures. Hospitals are also printing training tools and personalized surgical equipment. Someday, doctors hope to print replacement body parts.
“There’s no doubt that 3-D printing is going to be disruptive medicine,” said Dr. Frank J. Rybicki, chief of medical imaging at the Ottawa Hospital and chairman and professor of radiology at the University of Ottawa. He is the former director of the applied imaging science lab at Brigham and Women’s Hospital, a few blocks from Boston Children’s.
“It makes procedures shorter, it improves your accuracy,” said Dr. Rybicki, who has used 3-D printing in his work with face transplants. “When bioprinting actually hits, it will change everything.”
For now, the printer extrudes a layer of liquid plastic instead of ink. It adds a second layer, and then another, and a skull or rib cage — or whatever the surgeon dials up — slowly emerges.
The same process can also print layers of human cells. So far, researchers have also printed blood vessels, simple organs and bits of bone.