How 3D Printing is Enhancing Surgical Efficiency at University Hospital Birmingham


One domain witnessing swift advancements in 3D printing is the medical arena, primarily because of its capability to devise custom solutions for every individual patient, shaving off the overall spent time. This is especially evident in Birmingham University Hospital, England, where patient treatment for head and neck cancer has seen significant advancements. Through the use of personalized 3D printed incision guides, the hospital succeeded in reducing operation times by almost three hours.

This revolution has altered the manner in which these tumors are taken out, as precise incision guides, unique to each patient are made available prior to the operation. In the past, these guides were manually crafted by cutting and bending metal during the surgery, a process which was not only lengthy, but also prone to many errors. Now the focus has turned towards Stratasys with its J5 MediJet, for creating these guides. This is because, as per Stefan Edmondson, Consultant Clinical Scientist (Reconstructive Science) at the hospital, the PolyJet technology allows for the development of “astonishingly lifelike, biocompatible and sterilizable anatomical models”.

Creating Precise Surgical Guides With 3D Printing

The use of 3D printing allows the surgical team to construct extremely precise devices using patient scans. These devices have a resolution of less than 150 microns, enhancing surgical outcomes. Built from the sturdy and transparent Biocompatible Clear MED610™ resin, these devices are especially suited for applications in which extended skin contact, more than 30 days, and brief contact with tissue, bone, or mucous membranes, up to 24 hours, is necessary.

Surgical planning can greatly benefit from 3D printing according to Edmondson. With the aid of patient scans, the team can produce 3D visualizations based on each patient’s unique anatomy and then apply 3D printing technology to generate both anatomical models and custom surgical cutting guides before the actual procedure, “In addition to saving up to three hours of surgery time, 3D printing also enables much better surgical planning. Using patient scans, the team is able to create 3D visualizations based on the distinct anatomy of each patient – and then leverage 3D printing technology to produce both anatomical models and personalized surgical cutting guides ahead of the actual operation.”

Precision is key when creating incision guides for transplantation into the head or neck, according to the hospital. Any inaccuracies could result in poor fit and rejection by the body, causing discomfort for the patient. In a complex process like this—taking a piece of a patient’s fibula, shaping it, and implanting it in the target location while preserving the bone tissue—3D printing has shown superior capabilities compared to conventional methods.

Stefan Edmondson concludes: “This capability means we can not only accurately predict the surgery before it’s done, but that we have the tools to ensure that the meticulous pre-surgical planning can be executed with the utmost precision. The surgical team is also much better prepared and the patient is far more at ease, as we can talk through the process and expected outcomes prior to going into the operating theater.”

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