A student has used 3D printing technology to create a model of a kidney that could be used to help train cancer surgeons.

The model created by Glasgow School of Art (GSA) student Lisa Ferrie could help surgeons hone their skills in performing a robot-assisted laparoscopic partial nephrectomy – a procedure that removes part of the kidney affected by a tumour.

This type of training in robotic surgery is currently provided by virtual reality simulators, as well as cadaveric and animal models that are expensive and not widely available.

Miss Ferrie, a medical visualisation and human anatomy masters student at the School of Visualisation and Simulation, worked with medical experts to develop the model.

She said: “There is an increasing incidence of kidney cancer within the UK and, where possible, surgeons will use a procedure known as a partial nephrectomy to treat it.

“The procedure removes only the part of the kidney affected by the tumour, which is done to preserve as much kidney function as possible while still removing the cancer. 

“This procedure is very technically challenging and can be performed by only a few very skilled surgeons.

“I have a background in medical sciences and have developed a passion for improving medical education, clinical practice and patient care through the application of technology.

“The decision to focus on kidney cancer and the development of a surgical training model for robot-assisted laparoscopic partial nephrectomy was due to both my academic interest in the kidney and because the disease has personally affected my family.”

Starting with a CT scan from a patient who had kidney cancer, Miss Ferrie used 3D-printing technology to develop and evaluate an anatomically accurate, low-cost surgical training model of a kidney with a tumour.

Anatomically accurate 3D moulds are printed and then filled with hydrogels capable of simulating human tissue.
Surgeons and trainees can then use the model to hone their skills in robotic surgery.

Miss Ferrie is now keen to take forward her research and further develop the model.

She worked closely with experts including consultant urological surgeon Grenville Oades and urology specialist registrar Flora Rodger, who are both based at the Queen Elizabeth University Hospital in Glasgow, and with the school of biomedical engineering at Glasgow University.

Mr Oades said: “The model looked and felt real. Overall, I thought this model provided an excellent opportunity to practise a complex surgical technique in a non-virtual reality environment and would be very keen to incorporate it into surgical training.”

Miss Rodger said: “This realistic model provides a safe environment to develop skills in robotic surgery that would otherwise be reserved for later stages of training.

“It also allows you to get a feel for the instruments and tissue handling in a way that online modules struggle 
to recreate.

“As robotic surgery becomes more widely used in urology, this type of model will be invaluable.”

There is growing demand for 3D printing in medicine, with predictions that the field will be worth $3.5 billion (£2.9bn) worldwide by 2025, compared with $713.3 million in 2016. 

It is hoped it can be used in everything from replicating human organs for transplant to producing cheaper versions of surgical tools, as well as generating prosthetic limbs for amputees. 

Surgeons in Belfast used a 3D model of a donor kidney in a world-first in 2018 to practise for a complicated transplant operation. 

A 22-year-old woman was due to get a donor kidney from her father, but he had an incompatible blood group and his kidney was discovered to have a potentially cancerous cyst. 

Using the 3D printed replica of his kidney, surgeons were able to accurately identify the size and location of the cyst and practise removing the maximum amount of his kidney for transplant while precisely excising the cyst.

Miss Ferrie’s work will be on display in the GSA graduate degree show at Glasgow’s McLellan Galleries until August 29.