Gabriel's parents were worried, but the doctor reassured them that they had an ace up their sleeve. Gabriel would be the first infant patient ever to have his brain recreated in 3-D for the brain surgeons to rehearse the procedure.
A 3-D mold of Gabriel's brain was made by using his CT and MRI scans to create a digital mock-up, then the entire thing was printed in 3-D. Boston Children's Hospital has a 3-D printer on site, so it was only a matter of hours before the finished product was ready.
The entire model is printed, accurate to 16 microns per layer of printed plastic. That's the size of a droplet in a cloud. Blood vessels are also printed inside the model, but in a different color to contrast with the gray matter.
For doctors and surgeons in training, the new 3-D printing technology is a godsend. Dr. Joseph Madsen, the director of the epilepsy program at Boston Children's Hospital, knows that even the most experienced surgeon needs a practice run to effectively complete their operations.
"No one wants to be the first person to get a hemispherectomy from a surgeon, ever," he adds.
Surgeons used this model to show Gabriel's parents how the operation would proceed, and they were also informed about what complications could arise from the surgery. Gabriel's own surgery happened soon after, and the now 18-month old toddler is completely seizure-free.
The 3-D printing of a patient's organs to practice on before surgery is just one more instance of how technology is saving lives every day. What else could 3-D printing accomplish?