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3D printed liver model created to help surgeons prepare for difficult operations

Scientists have come up with a way to 3D print a model of the liver that could help surgeons rehearse for difficult operations.

Researchers at Nottingham Trent University developed the tool using scan data of cancer-hit patient organs.

By allowing doctors to practice on a lifelike model before actual surgery, it is hoped liver resections will be carried out with greater accuracy and improved patient outcomes.

Dr Christopher Clarke, a consultant radiologist at Nottingham University Hospitals NHS Trust – who provided scan data and medical expertise on the project – said the technology could give surgeons “increased confidence in each procedure they undertake”.

Fake blood and different tissue hardnesses, such as the blood vessels, liver tissue and the tumour itself, are all factored into the prototype 3D-printed organ.

3D printed liver
Prototype 3D-printed liver model (Nottingham Trent University/PA)

It is made out of synthetic gels and fibres.

Doctors are able to test real surgical practices, such as endoscopies and laser ablation techniques.

“Surgeons have an incredibly complicated job to remove some tumours to save people’s lives,” said senior research fellow Richard Arm.

“Due to the limitations of existing technologies available to them, many surgeons only discover the true complexities of an operation when they are in the midst of the live procedure itself.

“Every patient is unique and has organs of different shapes, sizes and constructs, so there can be many hidden complications that they have to deal with.

“This research shows how existing scan data and modern 3D-print processing methods can dramatically improve the preparation available before the first incision is even made.

“It could give surgeons increased confidence and may provide patients with improved outcomes, such as the increased retention of healthy tissue, reduced risk of infections and swifter recovery times.”