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Doctors at the University of Rochester Medical Center are pioneering a new procedure to improve patient outcomes and physician preparation when it comes to complex surgeries.

Dr. Ahmed Ghazi and Dr. Jonathan Stone began their quest four years ago with a question.  “So the question we wanted to ask ourselves is how can we improve our ability to do this surgery and also how can we improve patient safety in the process?” said Dr. Ghazi.

Combining Dr. Ghazi’s expertise as a surgeon and Dr. Stone’s passion for innovation, they are changing how surgical medicine is taught and performed.  “What happens in the surgery really depends on your skill set and your ability to manage the unexpected in the surgery,” Dr. Ghazi said.  “That has been what surgery has been for a very long time.  That has not changed to date.  We’re changing it.”

Much like pilots do in flight simulators, the doctors are simulating surgical scenarios.  The process starts with a basic CT scan, which is converted to a 3-D image and then printed three dimensionally.  The results are impressive, but not enough.  The next step for doctors is to take what they’ve modeled three dimensionally and turn it into an actual organ that they can touch and rehearse on before they enter the operating room.

After lots of testing with silicon, agar and various polymers, the doctors landed on the right chemical.  “It was an a-ha moment in a way,” said Dr. Stone.  “Our first kidney, it was dark purple and it was ugly but it felt like a real kidney!”
The quality of the organ reproduction continues to improve.  Dr. Ghazi displayed a model kidney which represents the actual kidney dimensions of a real person with a real tumor that he will remove.  “It’s an incredible depth of knowledge,” he said holding the model kidney with a sizable purple tumor protruding from it.  “It’s like foreseeing the future.  I can predict exactly what is going to happen in the operating room with this patient.”
The benefits of all of the doctors efforts are numerous.  For starters they can perform complex surgeries, where the length of time for the procedure is a risk factor, far more efficiently by rehearsing the necessary steps ahead of time.  Dr. Ghazi said patients also experience less blood loss.  In addition, there has been a fifty percent reduction in radiation exposure for both the patient and doctors.  The models are providing a teaching tool for new surgeons, and a rehearsal tool for experts.  Patients also gain a greater understanding, and comfort, with the procedure doctors will perform. 
Dr. Stone believes the work being advanced at the University of Rochester Medical Center is ahead of efforts at other research facilities.  “To my knowledge nothing that produces a kidney that you can operate on,” he said of other organ models.  It’s not just kidneys.  Dr. Stone also displayed a model prostate, gall bladder and intestine.  He said there is no limit to what body organ can be modeled.
The doctors are continuing to improve upon their work.  Dr. Ghazi said as important as the models are today when it comes to patient outcomes, he’s excited to see how much better the technology will be in the future.  “Five years from now we will have a model that’s even better than this, that is more realistic, that might be able to even generate automated metrics – to tell you that you could do this to improve your performance tomorrow in the real case.  That’s what we’re hoping we can do.”  

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