Operating on the very young or very frail is extremely risky, especially for complex procedures like transplants, Now doctors can make scale models and practice procedures in safety before putting their patients under the knife.
Three-year-old Dexter Clarke is now a healthy little boy, after receiving a kidney transplant that applied 3D printing technology in a novel way that its developers say could revolutionise surgery and slash health costs.
Because Dexter was so small he would normally have had to wait for the transplant as the surgery is highly complex, but doctors created 3D models to pre-plan the procedure; one of Dexter's abdomen, and one of his donor father's larger-than-average kidney.
This allowed them to practice the transplant to reduce the risk factors.
"If we can take an hour or two hours off a procedure, if we can reduce the amount of time in that theatre, reduce the amount of recovery time, the amount of beds being taken up, all of that compounded really drives the economic argument for where 3D printing helps the health service," says Dr Phil Reeves, vice-president of the company that has created the special printer Stratasys.
The machine costs €285,000 and surgeons are finding them increasingly invaluable. But for the Clarkes, it's priceless.