lead surgeon Jaume Mora

Doctors at the Sant Joan de Déu in Barcelona were stumped when confronted with what they initially believed was an inoperable tumor threatening the life of a 5-year-old boy. But rather than throw in the towel, they turned to 3D printing.

The patient, Marc, suffered from a childhood cancer, neuroblastoma. Though his course of treatments were effective in controlling the disease, he was plagued with a large tumor in his stomach which surgeons had twice failed to remove. A tangle of blood vessels and arteries encasing the tumor made further surgery difficult.

"We tried twice but failed surgery because we couldn't access the tumor," said lead surgeon Jaume Mora.

Neuroblastoma, a cancer which develops from immature nerve cells found in several areas of the body, commonly arises in and around the adrenal glands. The cells themselves have similar origins to nerve cells and sit atop the kidneys. In Marc's case, the neuroblastoma developed in the abdomen where groups of nerve cells are common. Neuroblastoma most commonly affects children age 5 or younger, though it may rarely occur in older children.

What that meant in practice was that the tumor was encased within a complex matrix of various crucial structures which could not be disturbed.

And then they came up with an idea; building a "roadmap" to guide them through the complex surgery using 10 days of rehearsals and 3D printed models.

As a result, Marc's doctors say he'll make a complete recovery and won't require further surgery.

"These techniques have been used before with bones or jaws, but never before in other body parts that have soft tissue," said surgical team member Kravel Lucas of the process.

To represent the intricacies of the arteries, blood vessels and organs surrounding the tumor, the surgical team hard-printed some areas and then 3D printed other areas from soft, translucent resin.

Have you heard the news? 3D Printer World Expo is coming to Seattle.