Surgeons and radiologists at the Mayo Clinic in Jacksonville are using 3D printing technology to plan out surgeries before ever entering the operating room.

Dr. Si Pham, chair of cardiothoracic surgery at Mayo Clinic, recently used a 3D-printed model to prepare for a complicated heart surgery, during which he had to remove a tumor.

Dr. Pham equated the printed model to a road map, guiding him to the best approach to surgery.

“If you drive to a different city, if you have a road map you will know exactly where to go without getting lost,” Pham said. Pham said the 3D models are used for heart tumors, aneurysms of the aorta and heart defects.

Additionally, surgeons can show the models to patients to help them better understand their condition.

The 3D printer inside the Stabile Building on Mayo Clinic’s Jacksonville campus uses liquid resin, which builds the model one layer at a time. Each layer is then hardened by an ultraviolet laser.

The process begins with images from a CT scan or an MRI.

“We use the image data to define the areas that we want to print,” said Dr. Robert Pooley, director of Mayo Clinic’s 3D printing lab. Pooley said a radiologist analyzes the images to determine what is normal, abnormal and relevant to the surgery to send to the printer.

“Then we can export a print file,” Pooley said. “It’s kind of like a word document that you can send to a printer. This produces a 3D print file.”

The prints take hours to make and the result is an exact replica of the organ undergoing surgery.

What does this mean for the public?

Pham and Pooley said the 3D models lead to shorter surgery times, faster recovery and better outcomes for patients on the First Coast.