Photo Credit: Roland Metzger / Sheba Medical Center

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3D printing, one of the most exciting, cutting-edge technologies, is currently revolutionizing surgical procedures at the Sheba Medical Center in Tel Hashomer. Used in conjunction with MRI and virtual (VR) and augmented reality (AR), 3D printing is currently being used as a precision tool to save lives, avert complications, and greatly improve surgical outcomes while serving as a unique pre-op learning tool for rookie surgeons.

Leading this innovation is Dr. Dina Orkin, a self-professed “doctor at heart, by education, in my soul and by practice.” The manager of Sheba’s 39 operating rooms with its more than 200 daily operations and procedures, Orkin does not limit herself only to carrying out her official duties, but is also constantly dreaming up creative ways to keep patients out of the hospital, or at least, to have as short a stay as possible. While she acknowledges that 3D printing is still very new, she believes that “it won’t take long before it’s used on a large scale in all healthcare organizations.”

Dr. Dina Orkin

Although Orkin began applying 3D printing to surgical procedures only since June 2019, the technology has already shown some remarkable achievements both in preparation for surgery and in the OR itself.

For one thing, the printing of precise, patient-specific replicas of organs and bones – measured using MRIs – used in tandem with Virtual Reality (VR) and Augmented Reality (AR) provides inexperienced surgeons with the opportunity to perform a sort of “dry run” on an altered reality composite of the patient. Imagine a surgeon being able to examine a plastic printed replica of the patient’s damaged kneecap before the actual surgery. Now, imagine the surgeon having a full 3D view of that replica on a computer screen, and more, being able to manipulate it in different ways. “There’s no doubt that 3D printing has various applications that will vastly improve outcomes for patients,” says Orkin.

A few examples: A 5-year-old boy with Ewing sarcoma, a cancerous tumor that forms in bone or soft tissue, was scheduled to undergo a below-the-knee amputation. Using the 3D printer, Dr. Orkin and her team succeeded in producing a perfect facsimile of the bone that needed to be removed. Using that as a mold, she created a cement replica to replace the affected bone, thereby saving the child’s leg, and giving him the chance to lead a normal life.

In another case, a 14-year-old girl was suffering from end-stage heart failure. However, before she could receive a life-saving heart transplant, her cardiologist needed to perform a bridge procedure made more complicated due to the patient’s enlarged heart. With the help of a 3D replica of the patient’s heart, the team succeeded in devising the best location and angle for the insertion of cannulas, thereby clearing the way for the procedure and eventually, the transplant. Today, she is in rehab, in the final stages of recovery.

A 16-year-old girl who needed corrective facial reconstruction following a trauma was able to achieve outstanding results with the help of 3D printed facsimiles of her jawbone. The improvement was so dramatic that one of her friends did not recognize her after the procedure had taken place. “My future husband will never know that I was ever disfigured,” she said happily.

Dr Orkin has big dreams for the future and is confident that they are within reach, for example, custom-made, 3D printed parts for knee replacements and other similar procedures.

Although she has faith that she will witness long-term investment in the program, she realizes that the medical establishment is still shackled by the as-yet tremendous cost of 3D printing. As the technology develops further and becomes more cost-effective, says Dr. Orkin, we can look forward to great improvements in surgical procedures and much more. According to Dr. Orkin and her team, “the sky’s the limit.”

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