A groundbreaking operation at Guy’s and St Thomas’ hospital in London made use of 3D printing technology to help surgeons give an adult kidney to a 3-year-old girl.
Lucy Boucher was four weeks old when she first suffered heart failure, which deprived her kidneys of vital oxygen. While she survived she has been on dialysis until she was old enough to have a transplant.
Two months ago her father, Chris Boucher, donated his adult-sized kidney to his small daughter. Surgeons at the hospital used 3D-printed models of the kidney in order to plan how they would be able to put it into a child.
The procedure has been deemed a success. Lucy now has a functioning kidney and no longer has to undergo dialysis three times a week.
The life-changing and life-saving procedure of giving young children kidney transplants has benefits but is challenging. Usually, although an adult kidney is large, there’s enough room in the abdomen of a 2-year-old to accommodate it. There is also evidence from Stanford University to suggest that children who receive adult kidneys have better outcomes than those who receive smaller ones. However the logistics of making correct incisions, how the kidney is best placed and the best way to approach vessels are complex. In Lucy’s case her liver needed to be moved up slightly in order to fit in her new kidney.
Mr. Boucher told media that, when he saw the 3D printed model of his kidney, he was amazed at the size. “It was phenomenal to see it and then to just hold it over Lucy’s abdomen — you just think: ‘How on earth can they fit that into this abdomen?'”
The technique of 3D printing, said her transplant surgeon, Pankaj Chandak, gives an “additional layer of safety” for the processes involved.
3D printing is an important emerging technology that holds much potential for medicine. Surgeons have been able to practise surgeries on 3D models before using the lessons learned on patients. In May last year, for instance, Chinese doctors were able to remove a tumour from a woman’s kidney without damaging its function — a feat made possible by 3D printing.
3D models can be created first through taking MRI or CT scans of a person’s organ. Those images are converted into a set of blueprints that a 3D printer can build from to create the model.
There’s further suggestion that, in the future, 3D printers may be able to print living tissue, including organs.
In the meantime there is much to celebrate in Lucy’s new-found wellness — she will soon start nursery school — and the scientific leaps that helped get her there.