Full-colour, multi-material 3D printing technology is helping surgeons at Bordeaux University Hospital (CHU) improve the planning of complex kidney tumour removal surgery.

Using the Stratasys J750, the surgical team at CHU’s Department of Urology and Kidney Transplantation is 3D printing lifelike transparent and coloured models of individual patients’ anatomy. This is improving the rate at which they perform precise and successful surgeries.

The clearer view offered by the 3D-printed model helps identify and avoid damage to delicate arteries and vessels and avoid the risk of a patient’s kidney needing to be completely removed. This reduces the chance of them subsequently developing chronic kidney disease following their cancer treatment.

CHU urology professor Jean-Christophe Bernhard said: “Having a 3D-printed model comprising the patient’s kidney tumour, main arteries and vessels, each in a different colour, provides an accurate picture of what we will see during operations. The ability to visualise the specific location of a tumour in relation to these other elements, all in three dimensions, greatly facilitates our surgical planning and is not easily achievable from a 2D scan.”

The 3D models are also used to help explain the surgical process to patients.

Bernhard said: “Describing kidney tumour removal with a 2D scan or diagram will invariably leave most patients somewhat bewildered. Presenting them with a 3D printed model that clearly shows the tumour puts them at ease and enables the patient to grasp exactly what we’re going to do.

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“Initial research from patient questionnaires shows that having 3D-printed models increases their understanding of the surgery by up to 50%, so it’s a considerable benefit in terms of overall patient care.”

The 3D-printed models are also being used in surgeon training, giving medical students the opportunity to gain a more hands-on understanding of the procedures they will eventually perform.