Doctors at one of Europe’s leading pediatric hospitals performed an unprecedented life-saving cancer surgery on a nine-year-old girl with the help of cutting-edge 3D printing technology. Stratasys’ J5 MediJet 3D Printer is the first and only device that can produce anatomical models with full color and the accurate texture needed for pre-surgery planning.
Sant Joan de Déu Children’s Hospital (SJD) in Barcelona, Spain, is at the forefront of medical research and has embraced innovations in digital technology to better care for its young patients.
Using a 3D printer manufactured by the global leader Stratasys, surgeons at the hospital can meticulously map out how to safely execute highly complex operations on some of the world’s sickest children.
The J5 MediJet 3D Printer is the first and only device that can produce realistic anatomical models with the accurate color and texture needed for pre-surgery planning.
Earlier this year the hospital was presented with an extremely complicated case of a little girl suffering from clivus chordoma, a rare and aggressive malignant tumor that required surgical removal. The tumor was located between the base of the nine-year-old’s skull and the first cervical vertebrae, close to vital cranial nerves and vessels, vascular and digestive structures, and respiratory airways.
Using models produced by engineers at the hospital’s specialized 3D printing unit, the team of medics was able to devise a novel approach that would remove the cancerous cells without risking the schoolgirl’s life.
Dr. Cristóbal Langdon Montero, a specialist in rhinology and skull base surgery who led the operation, said:
“Through MRI we realized that to reach and remove the tumor via a traditional approach, we would need to resect the odontoid apophysis. However, this risked disarticulating the spine of the skull and would have involved a second surgery to fix the cranial base.”
Using the 3D printed model the team explored alternative approaches and found that by going through the nostrils they could access the tumor without making contact with vital organs and then remove it in its entirety from the mouth.
In this case, as with many others, being able to see and touch the exact replica of the child’s anatomy provided vital insights that would not have been known if they had “gone in blind,” said Dr. Montero.
“When you see the model you can really assess the size of the child and you can select the surgical instruments more precisely. In this case the child was really, really small and when we saw the model we realized we would need specific instruments. Without the model we would have gone into the operating room with the wrong tools.
The detail of the model from the J5 MediJet 3D printer was invaluable in planning this approach and instrumental to the success of the surgery. What’s more, we were able to preserve the organs and vital functions of the young patient.”
Printing the Anatomy That you Want
Arnau Valls Esteve, an R&D engineer who heads 3DForHealth, the hospital’s 3D printing unit, said without having the model to work with, the medics would not have discovered their novel method of removing the girl’s tumor. He added:
“We imagine a future where you don’t have to use dead bodies or animals to improve surgical knowledge, instead you can print the anatomy that you want.”
SJD Barcelona established the 3D printing unit in 2016 and has found that using anatomical models in the planning of surgeries reduces the time patients have to spend in the operating theater by 40%. The technology is currently used in the most complex pediatric cancer and neurological surgeries and has also been vital when operating on babies in utero.
Since creating the lab, the children’s hospital has improved overall pediatric performance thanks to a major reduction in surgical-related risks through improved safety. The lab currently supports more than 200 surgical procedures each year with anatomic models and tools such as cutting and positioning guides.
3D Printing Will Become Central to Medical Processes
The hospital now aims to integrate 3D printing into the planning process as a standard procedure. It is launching a Pediatric Cancer Center designed to become one of the most advanced oncology centers in Europe, where 3D printing will be central to the medical processes.
The teaching hospital has also developed a training framework where 3D printed models are used to help trainee medics and junior clinicians better prepare for complex surgical cases.
Commenting on the innovative surgery that saved the nine-year-old girl, Arnaud Toutain, the EMEA business manager of Stratasys, said:
“The industry as a whole is still fighting to demonstrate the benefit of 3D printing. This case—and many like it—helps establish the value of the technology in medicine.”