Livers are tricky. From a surgeon’s perspective, they are a nightmare. Operations that include replacing dead or damaged tissues with healthy ones require extreme precision. Delicate instruments need to be handled almost perfectly as to not damage any healthy tissue. Blood vessels such as the hepatic vein is positioned differently in each patient so replacing it or mending it is very tricky too. Luckily though, the recent explosion of 3D printing applications includes one that can help surgeons in their exploits.
3D printed models of livers are crafted from CT scans of the patients organ and the surgeons then study this model to get more accurate results. The positions of blood vessels, damaged tissues, cancerous growths, healthy tissues and damaged tissues are all color coded on the model. Comparing this model to the actual liver would allow doctors to accurately and without damaging healthy tissue, repair the liver or any other organ for that matter.
Another precision technique is to fit instruments with GPS to track the positions of the damaged tissues to help in operations where delicate blood vessels are too close to them. About 30 surgeries have been performed this way at the Cleveland Clinic in Ohio.
With breakthroughs occurring in the world of 3D printing, some doctors predict that actual cells may one day be used in printers to produce actual livers and hearts pre-configured to the patient’s needs. This would revolutionize surgery as the problem of tissue rejection and organ shortage would become non existent.
This “bio printing” concept has far reaching implications. Since organ transplants will become abundant, perhaps the average life span would extend to 80 or 85 from its present value of 75.