Tech

3D printing helping surgeons practise transplants

Transplant surgery in the UK could soon be transformed thanks to 3D printing that helps doctors practise operations in advance and spot any issues before they happen.

Each machine costs £250,000 but surgeons say the device could save them costly time in operating theatres and ultimately help speed up patient recovery.

"This is a very clever use of technology because it allows us to effectively create scale-size replicas of the organ being transplanted and the abdomen that it's going into," consultant transplant surgeon Nicos Kessaris told Sky News.

Image: The replicas allow surgeons to practise before surgery

"In a small number of cases there's a complexity, whether it's with the size of the organ being transplanted or with the vessels, so if there is a complexity this allows us to practise the operation in advance."

Three-year-old Dexter Clark from Reading was one of the first patients to benefit after his father Brendan donated one of his kidneys, which turned out to be larger than average.

"It's just amazing that they were able to do this," said Dexter's mother Emily.

"If they hadn't been able to perform the operation, Dexter would have had to go on dialysis and wait until he got bigger."

Dexter had a 3D model of his abdomen made before surgery
Image: Dexter had a 3D model of his abdomen made before surgery

The 3D work is being pioneered in London by Guy's and St Thomas' NHS Foundation Trust and could eventually be rolled out nationwide.

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"If we can take one or two hours off each procedure, that's a serious saving in terms of theatre time," said Phil Reeves from Stratasys, the firm behind the technology.

"It would also be hugely beneficial for patients in terms of their recovery, so there's a huge economic argument there for the health service and the use of 3D printing."

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