Planning Impossible Surgeries with Personalized 3D Printed Tumor Models

Posted on 5 February 2020 by Jessica James

3D printed replica of the patient’s anatomy and tumor

3D printed replica of the patient’s anatomy and tumor (all images courtesy of 3D LifePrints)

3D LifePrints are building an excellent reputation for creating physical phantoms as a solution for surgical planning. The company use Synopsys’ Simpleware software as part of their model generation process, providing innovative options for difficult clinical situations through medical 3D printing. In 2019, 3D LifePrints worked with Alder Hey Children’s Hospital in Liverpool, UK to aid in the surgery for a 6-year-old girl with a large, ‘impossible’ tumor, with their models proving key to the pre-surgical planning process.

The “Impossible” Tumor

After several months of severe back pain, Leah Bennett was admitted to the Alder Hey Hospital for tests, whereupon a large tumor was detected at the base of her spine. The clinicians working on Leah’s case found that the cancerous mass was close to a number of important anatomical regions, including the spinal cord and superior mesenteric artery, and enveloped large parts of crucial vessels such as the aorta and the inferior vena cava.

CT scan of a tumor

CT scan of the tumor

Chemotherapy was attempted and proved ineffective, resulting in the need for surgical intervention. However, clinicians from around the country were cautious about attempting surgery, due to the risk of life-threatening blood loss during an operation. Alder Hey’s surgeons then turned to their in-house Innovation Hub, headed by surgeon and Clinical Director of Innovation Ian Hennessey, as well as 3D LifePrints, who have been embedded at the hospital for almost five years. Surgeon Jo Minford worked with this team to create a 3D printed model of the tumor and surrounding anatomical areas, with the goal of improving pre-surgical planning and lowering the risk of complications.

Creating a 3D Printed Anatomical Model

3D LifePrints used Simpleware software as part of an urgent workflow to model the patient’s anatomy and the tumor. Leah’s CT scan data was imported to Simpleware software for segmentation, before a file was exported to be printed using a Stratasys 3D printer. The workflow for processing the CT scan data and getting to a 3D printed model was aided here by the software’s ease-of-use, and ability to generate files ready for 3D printing.

Simpleware ScanIP model of a tumor reconstructed from CT

3D model of the tumor and surrounding structures reconstructed from CT in Simpleware ScanIP


“Working closely with the surgeons, we completely understood how urgent this case was and how imperative accuracy would be, given the odds. Their faith in us came from our longstanding relationships in the hospital and over the course of a weekend we were able to ready the model for delivery for the multidisciplinary team meeting in which the go-ahead for surgery would be made,”


David Collins, Biomedical Engineer, 3D LifePrints


Surgical Outcomes

Using the 3D LifePrints model, the surgical team were able to review and agree on the best possible approach to what became an eight-hour operation, with three surgeons from Alder Hey and one from Royal Liverpool University Hospital involved. The surgeons were able to remove 90% of the tumor with no complications. Leah has since completed radiotherapy at Clatterbridge Hospital, and is making a recovery. This case shows how seemingly ‘impossible’ surgeries are being made more practical by linking 3D images to printed models, with other applications including the use of models as part of targeting references for patient radiotherapy.

Leah after the successful surgery

“We are immensely proud to have been able to positively contribute to Leah’s battle with cancer. The biomedical engineers in our embedded 3D printing hub were able to prepare a detailed 3D model for this timely case over the weekend to help the surgical team at Alder Hey plan Leah's ‘impossible’ surgery. This case perfectly illustrates the value of combining innovation and technology at the point of care.”

Paul Fotheringham, Founder of 3D LifePrints

Learn More About Leah’s Story

Leah’s family continue to raise donations for the multiple charities that supported them through her treatment. Should you wish to support them, have a look at their GoFundMe page.

Any Questions?

Do you have any questions about Simpleware software or need additional information?