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Jul 25

3D Printing for Surgical Planning | Part I

As the utilization of 3D Printing and additive manufacturing continues to disseminate amongst a number of industries, medical 3D printing has seen some of the most rapid grown. 3D-printed anatomical models for surgical planning and clinical training have a wide array of applications in the hospital inpatient setting. Coupled with the benefits, they have fueled a growing clinical interest in surgical applications, as indicated by the number of published papers addressing 3D printing’s use in preparation for surgical cases.This application of 3D Printing is rapidly gaining popularity, with more journal publications from 2015 onwards than all previous years combined. Over the next few weeks we'll be taking a look at the ins and outs of this leading-edge medical application. This week, we'll be overviewing some of the benefits 3D-printed anatomical models bring to clinical and outpatient settings.

3D Printing: Promoting Precision Medicine

The benefits of 3D printing result from the clarity provided by patient-specific anatomical models that illustrate structure and pathology, which may be vague, obscure or hidden in X-ray, computed tomography (CT), magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) or ultrasound images. The information communicated by a physical model translates to numerous advantages starting with better insights, which leads to better outcomes, both clinically and economically.

“I hate opening up a textbook and saying, ‘This isn’t really your baby’s heart, but it kind of looks like it, and here is how we are going to do the operation.’ That doesn’t resonate with them. I showed it [the 3D model] to them and said, ‘This is what’s choking your baby. This is why she is taking all this medication, and this is why they won’t work.’ It is very powerful to show a family, ‘This is your baby’s heart and this is how I am going to repair it.’”

Dr. Redmond Burke | Director of Pediatric Surgery, Nickalus Children's Hospital

Furthermore, these models enable clinicians to clearly communicate with patients, improving over previous 2D modalities. By facilitating patient understanding, patient-specific, 3D printed anatomical models help promote improved complaince and informed consent.In published pilot studies, the main benefits can be categorized intro three main categories:


Holding an exact replica of a patient’s anatomy allows the surgical team to be better prepared before entering the operating room (OR). The model presents the pathology that may reveal a solution or possible complication that could not be seen when evaluating a 2D representation. These plans can then be easily communicated with patients, providing a common ground for communication. The models also help explain potential complications or functional outcomes related to anatomical limitations.


Depending on a 3D printer's ability to match the clinical environment, the model may be used to practice a procedure that involves one or more medical specialties. This can better prepare the team to address risks and difficulties, resulting in more efficient procedures and improved outcomes. Furthermore, 3D printing can be combined with other modalities for hyper-realistic training scenarios.


Rapidly gaining adoption is the use of patient-specific models to determine viability of procedures, appropriate selection of a surgical approach and/or device, and compare alternative strategies/devices by practicing on patient-specifc examples. The surgical team may ascertain that an entirely different approach is required or that a more suitable device would better accommodate the patient. This also allows surgical teams to assess potential complications and plan for them accordingly, before even stepping foot into a surgical theatre.

Case Example | Double Aortic Arch

Following the diagnosis of a double aortic arch in young Mia Gonzalez, the challenge was determining a surgical plan to save her life. Dr. Redmond Burke, director of pediatric cardiovascular surgery at Nicklaus Children’s Hospital, said that with a 3D model of her complex aortic arch vessels. Dr. Burke attributes the 2-hour reduction in Mia’s procedure to the 3D printed model, and the smaller incision resulted in a faster recovery than is typical in these procedures. Furthermore, the model used by Dr. Burke to plan the procedure was also used to explain the current condition impacting Mia's quality of life, and the the surgical plan that Burke's team intended. After years of unsuccessful diagnosis, this new approach was like a breath of fresh air for Mia and her family.


"We were able to figure out which part of her arch should be divided to achieve the best physiologic result. My team could visualize the operation before we started. We knew the safest approach, and con dently made a smaller incision. Why experiment? Why go into the operating room and hope? When we have a model, we can test the device and know with certainty this is going to work.”

Dr. Redmond Burke | Nickalus Children's Hospital

Today's post has borrowed from Stratasys' White Paper: 3D Printing for Surgical Planning Whitepaper - to download the complete White Paper, click here. For over 23 years, Cimetrix has been Canada's leader in 3D printing and additive manufacturing technologies. With a dedicated Medical Applications Specialist and a number of health partners, Cimetrx is equiped with the tools and experience to bring your medical 3D printing requirements to life. Be sure to stay tuned for next weeks post, where we'll get into the economics of medical 3D printing.