3D Printing Makes a Complex Brain Surgery Possible, Saving The Life of a 50-year-old Woman in China

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brain3It isn’t news that 3D printing is playing a major role in the advancement of medicine and medical treatments around the world. There have been countless stories where the technology literally has saved the lives of dozens of people who previously would probably have been left without any reliable surgical options. It’s the 3D printing of accurate, detailed medical models which are allowing surgical teams to better understand and envision problems that require repairing within the human body. China is one of the countries that seem to be extremely open to experimenting with 3D printing technology within the medical field, and today’s story certainly shows this.

brain1One 50-year-old woman, named Li Yi Mu, recently began suffering from severe headaches that were accompanied by nausea, vomiting and other unpleasant symptoms. Upon being sent to the emergency room, it was discovered that she had multiple large aneurysms in her brain, ranging in size from 7 mm up to 15mm in diameter.

Brain aneurysms, which are also sometimes referred to as cerebral or intracranial aneurysms, are weaknesses in the wall of an artery or vein in the brain which causes those arteries/veins to dilate. This balloon-like effect, which if not treated correctly, could eventually explode, leaving its victim with a severe, and certainly life threatening hemorrhage.

The normal diameter of an artery/vein is approximately 2-3mm, so the fact that Yi Mu’s vessels were 7-15mm in size at certain dilated spots, was definitely a cause for concern. This is when Neurosurgeon, Executive Vice President, and Chief of Neurosurgery at First Affiliated Hospital of Fujian Medical University, Kang Dezhi, came to the rescue, with the help of 3D printing.

“Many patients suffer a life-threatening hemorrhage before the onset of any symptoms. Once this hemorrhage occurs, it is instantly a life threatening situations,” Dezhi explained.

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Yi Mu had a large aneurysm located very close to her brainstem, which Dezhi said if ruptured, probably would have killed her. Because of the brain’s intricacies and delicate nature, Dezhi decided to take CT scans of Yi Mu’s brain and then 3D print comprehensive medical models from that data. This allowed him to know exactly where the aneurysms were located and it made what would have been an extremely difficult surgery, a little bit easier and less risky to perform.

“The brain is the body’s most delicate organ,” Dezhi explained. “The blood vessels and nerve structure is very complicated.”

3D printing allowed the surgical team to complete their removal of Yi Mu’s aneurysms through minimally invasive surgical incisions. Using the 3D printed medical model, which was made of both hard and soft materials to better mimic the real human anatomy, surgeons were able to guide their tools through the various tissues of the brain to the exact location of the aneurysms in order to quickly and efficiently remove them.

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The 3D printed 1:1 scale model of Yi Mu’s brain consisted of a hard transparent resin in place of her skull, softer pink-colored resin for her arteries, and yellow portions that represented the aneurysms. Doctors were able to use this model in order to practice surgery before partaking in the real thing.

“In addition, the model can also be used for aspects of clinical teaching, surgical training, preoperative talk and aneurysm morphology research.” Professor Dezhi explained. “Simulation with 3D printed models can certainly meet the individual’s healthcare needs.”

This is not the first time that Dezhi and the First Affiliated Hospital of Fujian Medical University have used 3D printed medical models of the brain and skull in aneurysm surgery. In fact, this is at least the 10th time they have used this surgical method.

What do you think about this amazing surgery, thanks to the use of 3D printing? Discuss in the 3D Printed Medical Models for Aneurysm Surgery forum thread on 3DPB.com.

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