3-D Printer Helps Doctors Prep for Complex Surgeries

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By Priyanka Dayal McCluskey
Globe Staff   |   January 18, 2015

Dr. Joseph Madsen entered the operating room at Boston Children’s Hospital on New Year’s Eve and stood over Myalynn Ranson, a teenager with plans to become a marine biologist and travel the world — if only her violent seizures would stop.

Madsen’s challenge was to remove a chunk of abnormal tissue from the left side of Myalynn’s brain, the likely culprit in the seizures, without damaging her memory or slicing a blood vessel.

As he made the first incision that morning, he felt an extra dose of confidence knowing he had done this very procedure before. He had practiced on an exact replica of Myalynn’s brain produced with a 3-D printer in the basement of Children’s Hospital.

Children’s has embarked on one of the nation’s most ambitious programs to integrate 3-D printing technology into medical care with the aim of avoiding surgical complications, reducing the length of operations, and ultimately cutting costs. The hospital has one printer buzzing 24 hours a day and will add two more, at the cost of $400,000 each, later this year.

3-D printing is the technology of making three-dimensional objects from digital files — in medicine, typically MRI or CT scans. Children’s has produced more than 170 models over the past 18 months, printing not just replica brains, but also skulls, spines, rib cages, and blood vessels.

“If this becomes a success for her,” her mother said, “it’ll be a brand new day for us.”

 

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