Bronchus model (credit Evelina Hospital).JPG

Pioneering 3D technology for respiratory health

Friday, June 29, 2018

  • Henry Pinchbeck is co-founder and Chief Executive Officer of 3D LifePrints, providing 3D printing to the NHS, universities and medical training centres
  • Recent work includes thoracic 3D printing at Evelina London Children's Hospital
  • Main image: Bronchus model courtesy of Evelina London

Hi Henry, welcome to Respiratory Futures. Can you provide a brief overview of 3D LifePrints and explain the benefits of developing 3D models for a clinical setting?

3D LifePrints was founded on humanitarian principles. Our initial work started in 2013 and involved providing 3D printed limb prosthetics to amputees in Kenya.

While we continue these activities, our main business is now the provision of medical 3D printing services for key UK hospitals and universities which we’ve been doing since 2015. We partner with clinicians, healthcare providers and academics to identify new applications of 3D technologies and provide a variety of innovative 3D printed products to reduce operational costs and enhance patient care. We now have embedded 3D printing facilities within Alder Hey Hospital, Royal Liverpool Hospital and Nuffield Orthopaedic Centre and will be opening at least one further facility in 2018.

Many hospitals in the UK are faced with the daunting challenge of meeting high standards of care and saving costs while at the same time bringing in technological change.

One of our main lines of products is providing patient specific anatomical models for planning surgeries. These models are also used to assist the surgeon in communicating with the patient and their family, and for training purposes.

In thoracic surgery there are many instances of complex surgeries where a surgeon may want to simulate before the surgery and then use the model to pass on their technique to colleagues afterwards. In one such example, 3D LifePrints has been working with Andrew Nyman of Evelina Hospital to provide highly detailed thoracic models to assist clinicians’ communication with the families of infants in the PICU.

3D LifePrints is currently the only company in the UK that offers a hospital the opportunity of setting up an embedded commercial 3D printing facility. A hospital using our embedded services has the dual advantage of avoiding capex investment in the hardware, software and personnel necessary to set up a 3D printing facility, but while still benefiting from having the service immediately available in-house. 

What challenges might a Trust be facing that would be a good reason to explore the use of thoracic 3D printing?

Many hospitals in the UK are faced with the daunting challenge of meeting high standards of care and saving costs while at the same time bringing in technological change. An embedded service allows a Trust to implement innovations such as 3D printing at much reduced cost and effort, meaning the hospital and its staff can concentrate on core services while having access to cutting edge technology.

[3D modelling] was invaluable and excellent for explaining surgeries to patients. Staff in theatre liked them as they could understand what I was doing and what I needed."
Mr Mark Pullan, Cardiac Consultant, Liverpool Heart and Chest Hospital

3D printing hubs can be set up reasonably quickly once a hospital has ascertained the appetite amongst its clinicians and designated a space.

What difference is 3D printing making to patients?

A number of studies have investigated the clinical benefits of 3D printing with a summary published in Biomed Eng Online. 2016 Oct 21;15(1):115 entitled "3D-printing techniques in a medical setting: a systematic literature review" reviewing 227 papers. The review found that, "In general, the advantages of 3D-printed parts are said to include reduced surgical time, improved medical outcome, and decreased radiation exposure" it concluded that "3D printing is well integrated in surgical practice and research".

Heimlich valve
Thoracic model

One of our long terms partners is Alder Hey Hospital where Iain Hennessey is the Clinical Director of Innovation. Iain has commented that "exploring the medical applications of 3D printing has been an incredible experience for the staff and patients of Alder Hey Children’s Hospital. With an embedded 3D printing facility we have discovered a number of truly novel and exciting ways to make our care better, kinder and easier."

In further work at Liverpool Heart and Chest Hospital, Mr Mark Pullan said of a cardiac model: "It was invaluable and excellent for explaining surgeries to patients. Staff in theatre liked them as they could understand what I was doing and what I needed."

What advice do you have for those considering using 3D printing in their clinics/Trusts?

I’d recommend to any Trust board that are thinking about purchasing a 3D printer that they consider all of the associated costs that are needed to run a facility.  Too often we have seen the purchase and under-use of 3D printers due to them being hidden in a single surgical department and a lack of understanding about the other resources needed. 3D printers should be used as often in thoracic surgery as they already are in cardiac, orthopaedics and CMF.

Visit www.3Dlifeprints.com for more information or email info@3dlifeprints.com if you have any questions about this article.

Images courtesy of Evelina London Children's Hospital.