3D livers make transplants safer

By Jodi Mohrmann - Managing Editor of special projects
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CLEVELAND, Ohio - On average, there are 16,000 people on the waiting list for a liver transplant. Finding a live donor is becoming a feasible option for many patients. But the surgery can be risky for recipients and donors. Now, in a medical first, doctors have a new way to make transplants safer.

When Mollie Moreland found out her brother-in-law, Chris Wagner, needed a liver transplant, she offered to be the donor.

"I was so touched by just her generosity and her courage," said Wagner.

The 24-year-old Moreland didn't think twice when doctors told her she would have to give two-thirds of her liver to Wagner, and she had up to a 1 in 200 chance of dying.

"There's no turning back. He needed it," added Moreland.

Before the transplant, surgeons at the Cleveland Clinic took images of Moreland's liver and printed a 3D replica that was an exact copy of the organ. They are the only doctors in the world doing this.

"We may be able to improve on the outcome and decrease complications," explained Nizar Zein, MD, Chief of Hepatology and Medical Director of Liver Transplantation, Cleveland Clinic.

The 3D organ is transparent, so surgeons can see all the major veins, arteries, and structures. They use it to plan surgery and even make decisions in the operating room.

"This physical model, you have it in surgery. You are able to manipulate it the same way you do for a person's liver," Zein said.

Wagner recovered and Moreland's liver regenerated two weeks after surgery.

"She's just been just amazing about the whole thing," Chris said.

So far, Cleveland Clinic surgeons have used the 3D livers in about 25 surgeries. They hope to also use the models for tumor removal surgery and to one day create real organs in a lab to use in transplantation. Moreland and Wagner started a charity to raise awareness and money for live donors.

Additional Information:

Experts say that the organs from one donor can save or help as many as 50 people.  Skin, cornea, internal organs, bone, and bone marrow are all organs that can be donated to another human. When people decide to donate their organs, they typically donate internal organs to family or friends. Most organ and tissue donations occur after the donor has died.  However, some organs and tissues can be donated while the donor is still alive.  There are no limitations on who can donate.  Whether you can donate depends on your physical condition, not age.  Newborns as well as senior citizens have been organ donors.  Non-resident aliens can both donate and receive organs in the U.S.  Organs are given to patients according to medical need, not citizenship.  In 2001, 334 (2.7 percent) of the 12,475 organ donors were non-resident aliens.  In this same year, 259 (one percent) of the 23,998 transplants performed were on non-resident aliens. (Sources: organdonor.gov/faqs.html, nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/organdonation.html)

NEW TECHNOLOGY: During an organ transplant procedure, doctor and surgeons usually have to rely on MRIs and CT scans to remain oriented. But doctors at the Cleveland Clinic now have a new tool to help them during organ transplant procedures. Using a 3D printer, they can print color models of a patient's organs. The 3D model provides numerous advantages to a 2D scan of an organ: "Holding the model and being able to look at it from all directions will give you that extra sense of confidence as far as understanding the spatial relationship of different structures during the operation. The second big advantage is that we use a transparent material to print the liver," Cleveland Clinic Dr. Nizar Zein was quoted as saying. The model allows doctors to have it in surgery with them in case they experience "surgical disorientations," where they essentially get lost. The overall goal of a 3D printed organ is to decrease complications during surgery, which in turn can help decrease them after surgery. (Dr. Nizar Zein)

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