Complex kidney transplant made possible by 3D printing

Written by Jasmine Harris

Surgeons at Belfast City Hospital (Belfast, UK) were able to perform a complex kidney transplant, aided by a 3D printed model of the donor kidney.

A complex kidney transplant was made possible at Belfast City Hospital (Belfast, UK), after surgeons used a 3D printed model of the donor kidney to completely excise a potentially cancerous cyst prior to transplant. The discovery of the cyst on the donor kidney added extra complexity to the procedure, and needed to be removed in its entirety before the transplant could proceed.

By 3D printing an exact replica of the donor kidney, using data gathered from CT scans, surgeons were able to be sure of the size and placement of the cyst and tumor, allowing them to plan and design surgery to remove the cyst and successfully transplant the kidney.

Consultant Transplant Surgeon Tim Brown explains: “In this case, our donor’s kidney was the best possible option for his daughter’s life saving transplant, so we had to ensure precise and complete excision of the cyst to retrieve maximum healthy tissue for transplantation.” 

“We planned and rehearsed the surgery precisely, using an exact replica of the donor kidney containing the size and position of cyst, so my team knew the precise procedure required in the operating theatre.  This level of insight is just not achievable with standard pre-operative imaging.”

Not only do kidney transplants largely improve quality and length of life, the annual cost of treatment post-transplant is much less than the annual cost for a patient on dialysis. By using 3D printing methods to increase the viability of transplants previously thought too complicated, many more patients could receive kidney transplants.

“As surgeons, we are highly trained and skilled at what do, but by having a 3D print of the patient’s anatomy in my hand, I get an extra level of understanding that just isn’t possible with 2D or 3D images on screen.  In this case, I could plan the surgery in detail, considering the best approach, as well as the potential problems, before stepping into the operating theatre,” concluded Brown.

Daniel Crawford, founder of axial3D (Belfast, UK), the company that produced the model kidney, commented: “We work with surgeons with the core aim to improve patient outcomes; reduce operating times and ultimately help advance surgical education and planning for the future.  We’re proud that our technology can have profound positive impacts on improving the quality and length of patients’ lives and we’re delighted that our work provided significant benefit for this family.”    

“We are delighted to hear that both father and daughter are doing well after their recent operation.  Improving patient outcome is at the heart of what we do.  It is vital that our amazing surgeons have access to the best and most innovative solutions to support them in planning for very complex procedures.    

“We believe in today’s economy, where cost saving and efficiency is at the forefront of the NHS agenda, 3D printing offers an exciting opportunity for hospitals to reduce costs, elevate care, and most importantly, improve patient outcomes.”