The 3D-printed liver replicas, made of transparent material threaded with coloured arteries and veins, could help surgeons prevent complications while performing liver transplants or removing tumours, a path-breaking research shows.
Till date, surgeons look at a magnetic resonance image (MRI) or a computed tomography (CT) scan to visualise the liver and plan the operation.
"We provide the surgeons with a physical model that is 100 percent identical to what they would encounter in surgery when they operate," Nizar Zein, chief of hepatology at the Cleveland Clinic in Ohio, was quoted as saying.
It takes away some of the potential surprises that would be found at the time of surgery.
To create the artificial liver, the researchers combined the MRI and CT scans that patients have already undergone and then recreated the 3D shape of the organ.
These models were anatomically accurate in terms of volume and location of vessels in the liver.
Using these models, the team created the 3D-printed organs using a transparent polymer, then dyed the main blood vessels and the bile ducts.
The researchers are now developing similar methods to guide complicated surgeries, such as hand and face transplants, and pancreatic tumour removals.
The new liver replica could also be used to train medical students in the techniques needed for surgery, Zein added in a study published in the journal Liver Transplantation.
Relevantly, a US company in January claimed to have developed the world's first multi-material full-colour 3D printer capable of making objects of hard, soft and flexible polymers.
The 3D printer developed by Stratasys features "triple-jetting" technology that combines droplets of three base materials, reducing the need for separate print runs and painting.
Via Annie Theunissen