In Brief
  • Researchers have developed 3D-printed models of patients' livers to help surgeons plan their operations.
  • The models, which cost $150 to make, allow doctors to visualize the liver's circulatory systems, tumors, and other medical anomalies that could impact a patient's treatment.

Livers in 3D

The medical community is always looking for innovations — both biomedical and technological — to improve the lives of patients. 3D printing just happens to be one of the many intersections of health and technology, and now it’s changing the way surgeons operate.

Jan Witkowski, a medical student from Jagiellonian University Medical College in Krakow, Poland, has been developing 3D printed models of patients’ livers to help physicians and surgeons get a better understanding of their patients’ individual physiology and potential complications before operating.

The personalized 3D-printed livers begin with CT scans from the patients, some of whom might require rare surgeries such as laparoscopic resections.. Witkowski prints a stereolithography lithography model with standard 3D printer PLA filament modeling the patient information. After this, all he needs to do is build a “liver parenchyma scaffold” and pours a clear silicone material that allows surgeons to understand the liver’s mass and shape.

3D Printing for Patients

The model livers are produced with visible circulatory systems, realistic tumors, and any other potential obstacles that a surgeon may face during an operation. The benefit of the models is that they enable physicians to identify potential sites of blood loss, understand exactly how far apart large vessels are, and determine how much tumor there is to remove.

Another strength of Witkowski’s 3D models is that they cost only $150 to produce. Witkowski and four of his fellow researchers published their work in the International Journal of Computer Assisted Radiology and Surgery.

These liver models are only one way that 3D printing is impact our health. Thanks to 3D printing, we’ve seen a young woman free to walk again, who without the technology would have been left a quadriplegic or worse; we’ve seen engineers invent the field of bioprinting, positing the potential of synthetic human tissue and organs; and we’ve even seen doctors 3D printing bones on demand. All in all, 3D printing is reminding us that we are in the future.