With advanced 3-D printing, surgeons practice complex techniques in Buffalo’s medical corridor

Nov 27, 2015

Three-dimensional anatomical models are not new to the world of medicine, but they’ve certainly come a long way. This week, a team at Buffalo’s Jacobs Institute debuted the latest 3-D printed models that are helping in the success of complex surgical procedures.


In a white-walled lab at the Jacobs Institute on Tuesday, Dr. Adnan Siddiqui wore a black lead vest as he carefully threaded tiny wires and surgical devices through the vascular system of a brain aneurysm patient. But there’s a catch – the patient wasn’t there. Siddiqui was testing out surgical devices in a recreated map of human blood vessels – an incredibly accurate model made with an advanced 3-D printer.

Dr. Adnan Siddiqui (right) and his lab assistant (left) practice emplacing wires and medical devices inside the 3-D model of a brain aneurysm
Credit Avery Schneider / WBFO News

Siddiqui, a neurosurgeon for Kaleida Health and the Jacobs Institute’s Chief Medical Officer, described it as “being able to test-drive these innovative devices and do dry-runs before we do actual cases to make sure we get the size right, make sure we get the tools right, make sure we have all the added information to make these procedures safer and better and more effective for our patients.”

Siddiqui has been working with Dr. Ciprian Ionita, Research Assistant Professor of Biomedical Engineering and Neurosurgery at the University at Buffalo’s Clinical and Translational Research Center, to turn scans of real patients into the models. They’re made of a single material called TangoPlusTM, a photopolymer printed with accuracy down to approximately two thousandths of an inch. It offers a feel more similar to the inside of arteries and vessels than previous models have come anywhere close to.

Ionita described the technology used to convert the scans into printable designs as being similar to what is used in the creation of 3-D video games.

“We take a CT scan which is a 3-D object and then we go and identify the structures of interest. We use a process which is called a segmentation, which means actually isolating those structures. We create a mathematical file which we can manipulate farther and then feed it to a 3-D printer,” explained Ionita.

Ionita said biomedical engineering students are already conducting the printing process on a near daily basis. While current models are made out of a single material, the next step planned is for multi-layer printing that will simulate the different layers of human anatomy.

The potential for this process doesn’t stop at practicing for real patients. Siddiqui foresees the most common use will be in training physicians at all stages of education, using generic models of human anatomy. It can also be used in the trial of current and prototype devices.

“Before you get a chance to really trial these devices, you don’t want to try them for the first time in the patient,” explained Siddiqui.

While the models can be designed and printed in 24 hours or less, Siddiqui said the 3-D printing process is not likely to be used in emergency situations or in relatively simple neurosurgeries. For the more complex and less urgent cases, he believes this method of realistic practice will become the new standard of care.