By komonews |

3D printer the latest weapon against cancer | KOMO

dnFEB 3D Printed Kidney Yelm and Dr Ripley MOLLY - nik_0003_frame_12125.jpg

SEATTLE--It's the latest advance in the fight against cancer. It's not a new drug, but a new technique that practically puts a patient's tumor in the surgeon's hands before they even walk into the operating room.

The medical breakthrough comes off a 3D printer in the Veterans Administration Puget Sound Hospital Innovations Lab after around 36 hours. Initially, it doesn't look like much. But peel back the layers and you'll see a replica of Greg Marshall's kidney. And you'll see his cancer.

"Well yeah, the big C, you know." Marshall said he thought he was suffering from a urinary tract infection. "And that's how they found it," he said. "So right away, ding ding, ding, you know. I'm the type of guy, I really don't show it on the outside, but on the inside I'm eating myself up. Worry and anxiety."

Doctors weren't able to ease his anxiety as they talked him through his disease using images from his scans. "It looks like gobbeldy gook to me, because all it does is come up in stages," he said. "You look at it and say, oh really."

It was much easier to understand the complications of his disease and upcoming surgery with a 3D model in hand.

Marshall came to see Doctor Michael Porter at the VA. Porter was able to show Marshall exactly where the tumor was located, its size, and discuss how the surgery would proceed.

Porter says this type of patient education is the first area of promise that comes with 3D printing. The second is in surgical planning. The model helps Dr. Porter prepare for what will be a complicated surgery. Before birth, Marshall's two kidneys grew into one single organ.

"He has an extra number of blood vessels," Dr. Porter said of Marshall. "Most people have one artery and one vein that goes off to each kidney. He's got at lease two arteries and two veins.

If Porter tries to remove the tumor without controlling those extra blood vessels, his patient could suffer catastrophic blood loss. And he needs to save as much of the single kidney as he can. Before surgery, he analyzed the 3D model, and during surgery, he consulted it again.

"See the artery right there, we're following that, so the vein is actually way north of us," he said to a colleague.

This type of planning saves time in the operating room, and that saves money.

The VA estimates the OR costs $80 a minute. Using the 3D model to map out the complicated surgery could save two hours of time - or $9,600 - with a model that cost less than $1,000 to produce. It also means less fatigue for the surgeon and less time under anesthesia for the patient.

Porter believes the third advantage of 3D printing is still to come, in the form of rehearsing surgery.

As the material used in the printer becomes more "organ like," doctors can practice surgery a day or two ahead of time

"That is particularly promising in minimally invasive and robotic assisted surgeries," Porter said. "There's less leeway in terms of adjusting during the case. Running through the surgery ahead of time may make planning that much better."

The lab at the VA has now turned out more than 20 3D models for surgical planning.

Doctor Beth Ripley is a radiologist overseeing the 3D printing program at the VA Puget Sound. "I always say to the surgeon, tell me what you're worried about," Dr. Ripley said. "What keeps you up at night. These are the things I need to make sure are in the model."

Ripley and Porter both say the VA is a leader in the country for 3D medical printing.

"The VA has a strong commitment to research and education in addition to clinical care for veterans. This is an example of how that can advance patient care," Porter said.

DRipley points to the vastness of the VA, which more than 100 hospitals. "This is the place you're really going to see how 3D printing grows," she said. The VA recently announced a partnership with GE Healthcare to expand the use of 3D printing in hospitals across the country.

As a graphic designer, Greg Marshall is a visual person who appreciates how the VA planned his surgery. As a cancer patient, he appreciates how it ended.

"They told me that they got it all and my labs were good. So I'm happy about that," Marshall said.