Christchurch surgeons practising surgery on 3D printouts

Surgeons at Christchurch Hospital are calling upon the help of a 3D printer to assist their preparation for surgery.

They say by printing models of a proposed surgical site, they're able to cut down time in the operating theatre, as well as recovery time for patients.

Hayden Shanks, 18, underwent major surgery to remove two tumours in his jaw bone just four months ago.

Part of his jaw bone was removed and replaced with bone from his leg. His remarkable recovery was, in part, thanks to technology being developed within the hospital.

Using a patient's scans, bioengineers are able to create 3D models of body parts that surgeons can study and even practise on well before a patient goes under the knife.

"That whole process we can do in two or three hours and it's all internal to the hospital," medical physicist Nicholas Cook says.

"The surgeons can pop downstairs from theatre and ask us to make a model, and we can have it for them by that afternoon."

In Mr Shanks' case, a replica of his jaw bone was created in the 3D printer, and surgeon Jason Erasmus was able to use this model to work out exactly what needed to be done in theatre.

Mr Erasmus says there are many benefits to this technology.

"It makes it a lot easier; it makes it a lot quicker, so we probably cut down our operating time by about two and a half hours. There's just no mucking around - it's very precise."

It's so precise, that four months on from surgery, you'd never know what Mr Shanks had been through, unless he told you.