Surgeons have become the first in the NHS to use a 3D-printed copy of a patient’s prostate to help them remove the cancerous gland.
They held the replica prostate in their hands as they used a £2 million robot to cut it free, ensuring they excised all the tumour but minimised the risk of causing impotence and incontinence.
The pioneering procedure is the latest to be performed at Guy’s and St Thomas’ NHS trust using 3D printing. Last November, another team of doctors relied on the technique to transplant the kidney of a father into his sick three-year-old daughter.
Professor Prokar Dasgupta, who performed the prostate operation at Guy’s hospital in London Bridge, said it had the potential to revolutionise prostate removal.
The hospital performs about 300 such operations a year with its da Vinci X1 robots. While this avoids the need for “open” surgery it means that surgeons lose their sense of touch.
Profesor Dasgupta said the plastic replica was “very realistic” and “remarkably accurate”. He told the Standard: “This retains the sense of touch. I can ‘feel’ the tumour without putting my hand inside the patient.”
He added: “How about having the patient’s prostate in my hand, before it has been removed? On the front of it, everything looks OK. But when you look at the back, there is a very big tumour. This tumour is also very close to the muscle that keeps the man dry [the sphincter], so I know exactly where to cut.
“It shows you the power of MRI, it shows you the power of this software, it shows you the power of 3D printing. If it proves to be as useful as it seems at face value, I think it has a great future.”
The replica was created in a laboratory at St Thomas’s hospital and relied upon measurements of the prostate from an MRI scan. It took 12 hours to produce the model, at a cost of about £150 to £200.
The model highlighted that the patient’s prostate was smooth on one side, helping Professor Dasgupta to spare one of the nerve bundles. “These bundles are important to the patient,” he said. “They go to the penis and help with the recovery of erections.
“Using this 3D model, we can plan surgery better, we can counsel the patient better and we hope to be able to remove the cancer successfully. This would hopefully allow me to do a finer operation than not having this. If I didn’t have this, there would be an element of guesswork.”
The patient, a 65-year-old GP who asked not to be named, had no symptoms and only discovered he had a large tumour on his prostate when he underwent a CT scan in India.
“He had absolutely no idea this thing was growing inside him,” Professor Dasgupta said.
Fellow surgeon Ben Challacombe said: “This man has high competing needs. He wants to be fully continent and potent but there’s no point in doing the operation if we can’t get the cancer out.”