A tech company, which creates lifelike body parts and templates to assist surgeons, has unveiled an ambitious four-year growth plan.

Paul Fotheringham, founder of medical 3D printing firm 3D LifePrints, says their technology is more realistic in preparing surgeons for operations than traditional techniques.

The entrepreneur says by creating a 3D model of a patient’s body part before an operation, the surgeon can be better prepared for any eventuality and improve the outcome.

For example a jaw cancer patient may need to have part of their jaw replaced with bone from their leg.

With the use of the firm’s cutting-edge 3D printing, the surgeon will be better able to predict how much of the patient’s fibula needs to be removed in order to re-construct the jaw.

3D printed liver

3D printed liver

3D LifePrints operates from hubs across the country, including Liverpool’s Alder Hey Children’s Hospital, but Fotheringham wants to expand this to 50 sites in four years.

Fotheringham said current pre-surgical simulation methods are limited. “How does a surgeon practice closing a hole in the heart of a child?” he asked.  

3D printed heart segment

Flexible 3D printed heart segment

He said surgeons have previously practised on everything from cadavers, pigs and even a banana but these are often unrepresentative of a patient’s condition.

“We would take an image scan, extrapolate the area of interest using medical modelling software and subsequently 3D print in a lifelike material to mimic a heart,” he explained.

“The surgeon then uses it to simulate the operation prior, so it increases confidence to do more effective operations and can reduce the time the patient spends under anaesthesia.”

The business opened its first embedded hub in 2015 at Alder Hey Children’s Hospital in Liverpool, and now has three others in Manchester, Oxford and London, which are situated inside hospitals to be “close to the surgeons and patient data”.

3D printed silicon heart

3D printed silicon heart

They have longer term plans to expand to 50 hubs across the world by 2024.

Fotheringham, who runs a current team of 10, said: “There are many opportunities to improve available surgical simulations solutions for training purposes using 3D technologies.”

He also spoke about how the industry is reaching into other areas such as dentistry, eyes, prosthetics and personalised medication.

If for example a person took 10 different tablets per day, a single customised pill could be created for that patient.

“Most surgeons we have worked with said they would prefer to not plan the operation again without a 3D printed mode,” he recalled.

“For me personally, even if there's a one per cent chance that a surgeon having access to a 3D model of my kidney would give them more information to pre-plan more effectively, I'd happily take that.”