Orlando Hospital uses 3D-printed models of fetuses to prepare for in-utero surgery


Pediatric neurosurgeon Dr. Orlando Health’s Samer Elbabaa shows parents-to-be Jocelyn and Jared Rodriguez (right) a 3D printed model of their developing baby. Orlando Health surgeons use models to prepare for in-utero procedures to correct spina bifida, a birth defect that occurs when the spinal cord does not close normally during development. Pictures: Orlando Health

The following report was produced by Orlando Health.

A state-of-the-art in-utero procedure enables surgeons to correct birth defects in developing babies while they are still in the womb. However, having surgery on a mother and her unborn child at the same time can be challenging and unpredictable.

To provide its world-class surgeons with additional information prior to surgery, the Orlando Health Winnie Palmer Hospital for Women & Babies in Florida uses MRI, ultrasound, and 3D printing technology to create a unique, detailed model of the fetus. The model enables surgeons to plan interventions in advance, helping them identify potential obstacles and reduce risks that may arise during the operation.

Models are currently used to plan an in-utero surgery to repair spina bifida, a birth defect that occurs when the spinal cord does not close normally during development. The condition can lead to lifelong neurological disabilities, including the inability to walk.

“The 3D reconstruction of the fetus can really educate the surgeon about the real shape, size and location of the spinal lesion and prepare the surgeon to have the appropriate equipment to surgically treat this condition,” said Samer Elbabaa, MD Elbabaa , the medical director of pediatric neurosurgery at Orlando Health, added, “This level of detail cannot be seen in traditional imaging, but in those cases where we cannot really see the defect, this is extremely valuable surgery.”

To create the models, Orlando Health works with the prototyping and 3D printing team at Digital Anatomy Simulations for Healthcare LLC (DASH), the Orlando, Florida company that developed the technology.

Raw, monochrome items have been 3D printed in the past, but DASH took the process to the next level and developed technology to enhance MRI and ultrasound images taken during pregnancy to reconstruct precise curves and edges. DASH prints the high-resolution models in multiple colors and materials so surgeons can see details such as skeletal structure, nerve and vascular anatomy, and fluid sacs in the spine and brain caused by spina bifida.

The models are currently used in the hospital’s fetal surgery program, which has performed 25 procedures since it began in 2018. Orlando Health is one of only 12 facilities in the US and the only one in Florida that can perform this type of surgery.

“The fetal models not only help surgeons plan things like the incision and repair of the defect, they also help shorten the duration of the surgery to limit exposure of the developing baby,” said DASH President and CEO Jack Stubbs. “We are able to create extremely realistic models by taking a batch of two-dimensional images captured throughout the pregnancy and enhancing them to reconstruct a better visualization of the actual appearance of the fetus.”

The 3D printed models give surgeons a clearer picture of what to expect during the surgery and allow them to better explain the baby’s condition to parents and show what treating the child entails.

additive manufacturing

Dr. Elbabaa holds 3D-printed models of fetuses. They allow surgeons to review, visualize, and prepare for a complex procedure that is normally only supported by MRI and ultrasound.

For first parents Jared and Jocelyn Rodriguez, the model made them more confident about moving forward with their daughter’s surgery.

“At first we just thought it was a model showing the same type of disease that our baby was diagnosed with, but then Dr. Elbabaa that it was made with our daughter’s 20-week MRI, ”said Jared Rodriguez. “We could see the brain and the spine and I looked at it and thought, ‘I’m holding my daughter? That’s pretty great. ‘”

Parents say that while they are prepared for their daughter’s challenges, they are happy that this technological advancement is helping to provide her with a healthier future. “With every appointment we go to, we get more and more good news and it already shows how strong she is,” said Jocelyn Rodriguez. “We know this surgery gives her the best chance at a normal lifestyle and we look forward to seeing the positive results as she grows.”

Surgeons see successful results from fetal surgery for spina bifida. Most babies who undergo the procedure have significantly fewer health problems and greater functionality than those who undergo surgery after birth. Some of the first patients to undergo the procedure are now learning to walk on their own.

Experts hope to expand the program in the future by modeling other types of birth defects that can be treated during fetal surgery.

Click here for a video report of the trial and parents Jared and Jocelyn Rodriguez.

3D scanning

Digital Anatomy Simulations for Healthcare President and CEO Jack Stubbs creates a 3D model of a fetus using MRI and ultrasound. The printed model will give Orlando Health surgeons a life-size representation to prepare for in-utero surgery.


Janet Smith