(ORLANDO, Florida) – Surgeons at Orlando Health Winnie Palmer Hospital for Women & Babies are able to perform a state-of-the-art procedure that allows them to correct a spinal defect on developing fetuses inside the womb. They are currently performing surgery on developing babies diagnosed with spina bifida, which occurs when the spinal column fails to close normally, often resulting in a lifetime of neurological disabilities, including an inability to walk. Now, new 3D technology is helping surgeons to touch and visualize the fetal defect to prepare for surgery.
“The 3D-printed fetal models not only mimic the anatomy of the spinal defect, but also educate the surgeon about potential challenges or complications,” said Samer Elbabaa, MD, a pediatric neurosurgeon at Orlando Health Arnold Palmer Hospital for Children. “Having this extremely accurate 3D model allows us to see much more than traditional imaging and ensures the procedure is done as safely and effectively as possible.”
To create the models, Orlando Health partnered with the expert 3D printers at Digital Anatomy Simulations for Healthcare, LLC (DASH), who developed technology to enhance MRI and ultrasound images taken throughout the pregnancy to reconstruct accurate curves and edges and print an incredibly true-to-life model.
“We are able to show details such as the skeletal structure, nerve and vascular anatomy and the exact shape, size and location of the spinal lesion,” said Jack Stubbs, President and CEO of DASH. “This not only helps surgeons plan for things like where to make an incision and how to repair the defect, but also helps reduce the duration of the surgery to limit the developing baby’s exposure.”
Surgeons are seeing successful results from fetal surgeries for spina bifida. Most babies who undergo the procedure experience significantly fewer health concerns and better functionality than those who receive surgery after they’re born, with some of the first patients now learning to walk on their own. Experts hope to expand the program to model other types of birth defects in utero that may be treated through fetal surgery in the future.