It is incredible to think that as little as ten years ago, 3-D printing was a virtually unknown phenomenon. And yet here we are, in 2014, witnessing scientific miracles emerging in abundance thanks to groundbreaking advances in technology. One of the most exciting breakthroughs is the use of 3-D printed organs to help save babies’ lives.
Last year, doctors in Boston used 3-D printing technology to successfully create an exact replica of the brain of 5-month old Gabriel Mandeville. Baby Gabriel had begun having severe seizures, and doctors recommended a complicated brain surgery called a hemispherectomy, which disconnects the healthy side of the brain from the side of the brain experiencing the seizures. To prepare themselves for the surgery, doctors were able to practice an exact replica of his brain, printed in soft plastic of only 16 microns per layer. As a result, surgeons did not have to rely only on 2-D X-rays, scans and their intuition to perform this highly intricate and complex procedure, viewed as one of the most difficult pediatric epilepsy surgeries. This was the first time an infant’s brain has ever been replicated using this technology! Thanks in part to their abilities to practice on the exact replica of his brain, the surgery was a success and baby Gabriel is now 18 moths old, healthy and seizure free.
Then this July, surgeons at Morgan Stanley Children’s Hospital in Manhattan used 3-D printing technology to perfectly replicate the heart of a 2 week old baby who was suffering from congenital heart defects. (You can see the replica baby heart, pictured above). While the infant’s condition, which includes holes in the heart and unusually formed chambers, can be treated with surgery, doctors often do not know exactly what they will find or how to proceed until they cut the heart open. They sometimes have to stop the heart during these surgeries just to look around, because the organ can seem like an intricate maze. But now for the first time ever thanks to 3-D printing, surgeons were able to practice on an exact replica heart before the surgery, using it as a ‘road map‘ to guide them, according to lead cardiologist Dr. Emile Bach. By practicing on an exact rendition of the baby’s heart before surgery, they were able to successfully fix the problem in only one operation.
It is awe-inspiring to think that technology has advanced far enough to allow doctors to create exact replicas of some of the tiniest and most sensitive organs belonging to the human species, infant brains and hearts. Certainly this has profound implications for the way that surgeries are performed, and it is hoped that 3-D technology will facilitate safer and more accurate surgeries in the future. Imagine your peace of mind when before ever engaging in an operation, the surgeon can literally hold your organ in his or her hands, manipulate it, examine it, and look for potential issues or problems.
But will there ever be a time when we can regularly print bones, other body parts or even organs and insert them directly into the body? According to Dr. Peter Weinstock, director of the Simulator Program at Boston Children’s Hospital, “the technology is coming.” Soon, we might even see on-demand anatomy printing making its way to the emergency room for trauma cases.
I am grateful to live in a world where these things are possible, especially when they are being utilized to help saves the lives of children. Blessings and Love!
Photo Credit: The Independent UK
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Dr. Kelly Neff is a social psychologist, author and educator who has helped thousands of people learn about health, relationships, love and sexuality. She holds a B.A. in Psychology from Georgetown and M.A. and Ph.D. in Social Psychology from Claremont Graduate University. A professor of psychology since 2007, she has become an innovator in the field of online teaching with her book, Teaching Psychology Online. When she isn’t writing, teaching or doing healing work from her home in Boulder, CO, Dr. Neff travels the globe researching transformational festivals for her upcoming book for the Festival Research Project. She is currently a contributing author to The Mind Unleashed. You can find her daily doses of inspiration and positivity on Facebook and Twitter. Light and Love!
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