Physicians at the University of Rochester Medical Center have created an incredible new way to simulate human organs and the human anatomy. It is part of the Simulated Inanimate Model for a Physical Learning Experience, also known as SIMPLE.
Three years ago, Ahmed Ghazi, M.D., was creating curriculum to teach medical students about minimally invasive robotic surgery. When he couldn’t find a product that met his needs, he decided to create his own. Fortunately, fate was kind enough to introduce him to Jonathan Stone, M.D., a neurosurgery resident with a biomedical engineering degree and a bent to invent.
Their passions collided and the pair joined forces to experiment with polymers and 3D printing with a goal of making life-like replicas of human kidneys. The incredible result exceeded their wildest dreams. “We didn’t expect that we would be able to replicate not only the anatomy, but the intricate physical details of the human organ,” Ghazi says.
Images from medical studies such as CT, MRI, or ultrasound are imported into computer-assisted designs. Instead of using the designs to create hard, plastic replicas, the surgeons instead convert designs into molds built with a 3D printer. These molds are injected with a specially developed gel created in Rochester, a process that makes them more lifelike than molds being used anywhere else in the world.
Thrilled, the duo redoubled their efforts. They wanted students, trainees, and surgeons to experience the complete surgical experience, a goal that required them to build both the requisite organs and the adjacent anatomy. This way, those being trained could replicate the process of guiding instruments to the right location, moving other organs out of the way, clamping blood vessels, and resecting and removing tumors.
After spending more time in the lab, the pair identified ways to alter the model to better simulate realistic conditions and complications experienced during surgery. They even devised a way to alter the consistency of the gel to create a dense tumor, learning how to identify where blood vessels enter and exit the kidney. Impressively, they made a replica kidney bleed in strikingly realistic fashion, providing an advantage for a studious surgeon.
With the benefit of this new technology, Ghazi rehearses complicated surgeries ahead of time. He does this by operating on a model – a lifelike replica of a patient’s kidney – that he and Stone have created. Ghazi and his team have rehearsed for more than 50 patients and the results of the real surgery exceeded expectations. “We’ve seen a tremendous difference in outcomes,” Ghazi says, citing reductions in complications, readmission rates, and the amount of X-ray exposure a patient receives
Ghazi believes the technology will become more common in the future, and that it will be driven by popular request. “I foresee there’s going to come a tipping point where patients will hear about this and demand this of their surgeons,” he says. “Surgeons, institutions, and even industry will be compelled to offer their services because patients will be mandating this.”