3-D Printing Help Surgeons Carve New Ears

3-D Printing Help Surgeons Carve New Ears
Children with under-formed or missing ears can undergo
surgeries to fashion a new ear from rib cartilage, as shown in
the above photo. But aspiring surgeons lack lifelike practice
models. (Credit: University of Washington)
When surgical residents need to practice a complicated procedure to fashion a new ear for children without one, they typically get a bar of soap, carrot or an apple.

To treat children with a missing or under-developed ear, experienced surgeons harvest pieces of rib cartilage from the child and carve them into the framework of a new ear. They take only as much of that precious cartilage as they need. That leaves medical residents without an authentic material to practice on, as vegetables are a pale substitute. Some use pig or adult cadaver ribs, but children's ribs are a different size and consistency.

Now, researchers have used 3-D printing to create a low-cost pediatric rib cartilage model that more closely resembles the feel of real cartilage and allows for realistic surgical practice. The innovation could open the door for aspiring surgeons to become proficient in the sought-after but challenging procedure.

Their results are described in an abstract presented this week at the American Academy of Otolaryngology -- Head and Neck Surgery conference in Dallas.

As part of the study, three experienced surgeons practiced carving, bending and suturing the researchers silicone models, which were produced from a 3-D printed mold modeled from a CT scan of an 8-year-old patient. They compared their firmness, feel and suturing quality to real rib cartilage, as well as a more expensive material made out of dental impression material. All three surgeons preferred the new models, and all recommended introducing them as a training tool for surgeons and surgeons-in-training.
Experienced surgeons preferred carving the 3D printed models
 (in white) over a more expensive material made of dental
impression material (in blue). (Credit:
University of Washington)
The lack of adequate training models makes it difficult for people to become comfortable performing the delicate and technical procedure, which is called auricular reconstruction.

Another advantage is that because the models are printed from a CT scan, they mimic an individual's unique anatomy. That offers the opportunity for even an experienced surgeon to practice a particular or tricky surgery ahead of time on a patient-specific rib model.

The team's next steps are to get the models into the hands of surgeons and surgeons-in-training, and hopefully to demonstrate that more lifelike practice models can elevate their skills and abilities.
Based on material originally posted by University of Washington.