Dubai surgeons to print organs in 3D ahead of surgery

Technology will speed up procedures, save costs and help doctors plan complicated surgeries in pre-operative stage

Suchitra Bajpai Chaudhary, Senior Reporter
16:53 October 17, 2016

Dubai: All Dubai hospitals run by the Dubai Health Authority will adopt three-dimensional printing technology from 2017, an official said on the sidelines of the Gitex exhibition on Monday.

Using this technology, the hospitals will be able to print artificial limbs, denture moulds, fracture casts and models of organs for patients to simulate surgery before the actual procedure.

Dr Mohmmad Al Redha, director of the Department of Organisational Transformation (OT) at the DHA, told Gulf News: “Our 3D printing programme is aligned to the 3D printing strategy initiated by His Highness Shaikh Mohammad Bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice-President and Prime Minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai. We have adopted this strategy and have worked out how the programme will roll out in 2017. This strategy will add speed to medical procedures, save costs and help doctors in pre-operative stage to plan complicated surgeries.

"Also, 3D printing will help in providing accuracy in medical education. We will be printing all models of organs using a basic CT scan of a patient to help doctors simulate a surgery and visualise all eventualities. It will not only save time and give speed in the surgery but also give the doctor ease in conducting the surgery while reducing anxiety for the patient who can be informed exactly about what the procedure involves.”

As research goes deeper into this field, many new uses are being discovered and the DHA is the process of expanding and revamping its 3D strategy.

Dr Shatha Saif, a DHA officer, demonstrated how 3D models are created. “In one case, a patient had a skull fracture and using a CT scan we were able to get the fracture scanned. This information was fed into the 3D printing machine and, using a special kind of plastic that is used to make Lego pieces, a three-dimensional image of the skull was printed with the machine.

"This enabled the doctor to examine the injury and also turn it around and see where it was impinging on the inside of the brain. In a regular scenario inside the operation theatre, what the surgeon gets to see is a very small section of the injury. But seeing the 3D model will help him plan the surgery and also inform him about the places where the injury was impingingn on the brain. This kind of advanced information is helpful in saving surgery time and providing relevant information.”

She added that the OT department was working towards replacing plastic eventually to use elements like ceramic to print single teeth for actual use in a patient as well as titanium to be used to print dental and bone implants to be used anywhere in the body.

Dr Redha added: “Technology changes very fast and very soon we might be using actual bone or cartilage from a patient, growing it and using it as basic material with stem cells as bio ink to print an actual ear or any other organ. That scenario is the stuff of science fiction but very soon this is going to be a reality with the success of 3D printing.”

Regulation and cost of printing

Dr Redha added that while technology was moving fast and revolutionising modern medicine, strategy planners were trying to keep pace with regulations about 3D printing.

“Very soon people will be able to print their own basic medicines like paracetamol at home, print their own dental implants and artificial limbs if they can lay their hands on the information required.”

He added: “The actual cost of printing is not even a cent per piece. Right now the basic 3D machine costs Dh35,000 and it can go up to Dh3.5 million for a very sophisticated version. One kilo of plastic costs approximately Dh120 and it can be used to make several copies of an implant, thus reducing the cost to very nominal cost per piece. In the future, just like photo copying kiosks, we might have 3D printing kiosks where people will be able to get any organ tailored to their need printed on demand. Therefore we require very clearly defined regulations to control any kind of random printing,” Dr Redha said.