Brain Power: 3-D Printing Is a New Tool for Thinking
November 20, 2015
ED SMITH DOES some fiendishly difficult surgeries. A pediatric neurosurgeon at Boston Children’s Hospital, he often removes tumors and blood vessels that have grown in gnarled, tangled shapes. “It’s really complicated, defusing-a-bomb-type surgery,” he says.
So these days, Smith prepares for his work by using an unusual tool: a 3-D printer. Days in advance, hospital techs use standard imaging to print a high-resolution copy of the child’s brain, tumor and all. Smith will examine it for hours, slowly developing a nuanced, tactile feel for the challenge. “I can hold the problem in my hand,” Smith says. “I can rehearse the surgery as many times as I want.” During the operation, Smith keeps the printed brain next to him for reference. As a visualization tool, it’s so powerful that it has reduced the length of his surgeries by an average of 12 percent.