A team of neurosurgeons at Cleveland Clinic in Ohio used 3D printing — a technology recently gaining more ground in the surgical world — to assist in a brain aneurysm repair. In one of the first procedures of its kind, physicians in Cleveland Clinic’s Cerebrovascular Center were guided before and during the operation via the use of a 3D-printed model of the patient’s aneurysm and the surrounding area.

The model was created from angiograms at actual size, allowing the lead surgeon on the case — Mark Bain, MD — to get a true feel for the scale of the problem and plan accordingly. As the surgery was a non-urgent procedure, there was time to create the model and develop a plan for surgery. Not only did the model allow Dr Bain to understand the aneurysm’s exact location and select the appropriate clip size to use during the procedure, it also indicated that there was an artery stuck to the aneurysm. As Dr Bain could visualize this well in advance, he and his team avoided being surprised during the surgery, ultimately saving them valuable time.

Dr Bain identified reduced operative time as 1 of the 5 major benefits of 3D-printed anatomic replicas, along with improved preoperative planning. Although in this case the procedure choice was clear from the beginning, Dr Bain noted that in some instances, access to an anatomic replica could be incredibly helpful in predicting whether a certain procedure would be successful or even beneficial.

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Further rationale for employing 3D-printed models centers is in the education of residents and fellows, as well as patients themselves. Residents and a fellow who worked on Dr Bain’s particular aneurysm case expressed that the anatomy was much clearer to them by virtue of having the model available. In addition, 3D-printed anatomic models have the potential to be used as patient education pieces — a patient such as the one in Dr Bain’s case can hold a model of their medical condition in their hands rather than relying on a surgeon’s explanation alone. This way, patients can understand why a certain procedure is chosen and gain a stronger sense of satisfaction as a result of better understanding their care.

Although 3D-printed anatomic models are still gaining traction in the surgical world, cases such as the one Dr Bain worked on offer what may be a glimpse into the future of surgery. These models provide immense benefit to the surgeons working on them and to the patients they treat. To date, a team at the Cleveland Clinic’s Lerner Research Institute has produced >100 3D-printed anatomic models for a range of procedures, from liver transplants to congenital heart defect repairs to aneurysm surgery. 3D printing generally takes a few weeks to generate a replica from patient imaging, currently limiting the technology to non-urgent elective cases. If the process were to become more widely available in the future, it has the potential to influence how surgeons approach and carry out numerous types of procedures.


3D-printed replica of brain aneurysm helps guide surgical repair. Cleveland Clinic website. Published June 5, 2019. Accessed June 14, 2019.