Welcome to this month’s AM Focus: Medical. For the entire month of February, we are going to zoom in on the many possibilities that additive manufacturing is offering today to medical companies. In this article, we investigate Lazarus 3D, a specialist in soft 3D printed medical models that can be cut and sutured just like real organs. Upcoming articles in the AM Focus will span innovative startups to giant multinational corporations, all of which are using AM in exciting ways. At the end of the month all the best content will be featured in 3dpbm’s Medical AM Focus 2020 eBook.
You can’t bring patients back from the dead, but you can prepare a surgeon to keep them alive. That seems to be the philosophy of Lazarus 3D, a medical model company based in Houston, Texas that is, in its own words, “revolutionizing medicine and healthcare.” The company makes soft and realistic 3D printed models of patient body parts that surgeons can use to prepare for the theater and which junior doctors can use for training purposes, providing a lifelike substitute for the human body.
Additive manufacturing is at the heart of what Lazarus 3D does. In fact, the company has patented its own 3D printing technology called PRE-SURE (PRe-operative SUrgical REhearsal), which it uses to fabricate lifelike models from soft silicones or hydrogels. The company has installed eight of these 3D printing systems in house and usually prints the detailed dummies overnight. These models are either representative or, in the case of surgical preparation, patient-specific. In the latter case, Lazarus 3D designs the models using DICOM (medical imaging) data provided by medical professionals.
According to Mouna Taroua, Lead Anatomy Engineer at Lazarus 3D, use of the PRE-SURE AM system provides huge benefits to the company. “Our products are designed specifically to fit each customer’s need,” explains Taroua. “AM offers us the flexibility to constantly change and revise version in a short period of time — often as little as 48 hours — before delivering the final product. And AM makes it easier to create realistic details with extremely precise tolerances, especially on small components like the cardiac vein.”
Lazarus 3D developed its own AM system because its requirements are fairly unique. The machines need to be large, since the company is often printing body-size components, and its soft polymer printing materials are not in mainstream use. (So tissue-like are these soft materials, the printed models can actually “bleed.”) Keeping things in house also allows the company to keep lead times short: organ models can be made in 24 to 48 hours and then quickly passed on to the recipient. Developing proprietary technology does come with its own set of challenges, however, since the team must regularly decide when and how to upgrade its machines.
According to the Houston company, medical professionals have noted the precision and realism of the 3D printed models — especially the patient-specific versions used to prepare for surgical procedures such as the removal of a tumor. “It is critical for the surgeon to have the exact dimensions of the organ and the tumor, so the rehearsal can reflect the same outcomes and difficulties as the real-time surgery,” says Taroua. “In one recent case, a patient with only one kidney had kidney cancer. The tumor was large and directly involved in the renal artery, so the surgeon reported that practicing on an exact replica of the patient’s organs was very useful: it helped save the patient’s only kidney.”
In 2019, Lazarus 3D reported a revenue increase of 70 percent on the previous year, showing that AM has a pivotal role to play in surgical preparation and medical training.