3D printing in kidney cancer treatment

An international hospital-university project on 3D printing and kidney cancer was presented early July in Bordeaux. Discover more about this project with objectives in healthcare, research and teaching.

  • 25/07/2019

© Fondation Bordeaux Université © Fondation Bordeaux Université

The stages in treating kidney cancer are numerous and decisive: announcing the diagnosis to the patient, explaining the complex surgery that may present certain risks (particularly post-operative), planning the operation, providing operation simulation, etc. With the aim of improving the overall process of these different stages, the urology teams at the Bordeaux University Hospital and the University of Bordeaux Institute of Technology joined forces to launch the 3D Kidney Print project that uses three-dimensional printing of kidneys. The results of this project and the many different benefitsof 3D printingfor healthcare were presented at a reception organized by the Bordeaux University Foundation on July 1st, 2019.

Teams from the urology and radiology departments of the Bordeaux University Hospital first developed a protocol enabling highly accurate scanner images to be obtained. The images were then processed by the urology teams from the hospital and the University of Bordeaux Institute of Technology to produce virtual models. A three-dimensional printing of patient-specific kidneys in resin was then carried out, using different colors to distinguish the different parts of the organ, in particular tumors.

An educational tool

When shown to patients, these 3D kidneys fulfill one of the project’s objectives, which is to improve pre-therapeutic patient education. “We realized that, despite our explications, around half of the patients did not understand the message that we were trying to get across”, explains project coordinator Jean-Christophe Bernhard, a University Professor and practicing urologist at Bordeaux University Hospital. “A kidney printed in three dimensions can be touched and felt by the patient and facilitates their understanding of the organ’s anatomy, as well as the characteristics of their own illness and the proposed surgical strategy.” As described by a patient, the 3D kidney shows where the tumors are located, allows the patient to touch them, and enables them to understand the illness in simple terms and to be reassured before the operation. Patients thus become actors in their own healing process.

Moreover, being able to see the kidney in three dimensions means that the surgeon can better plan the operation. It not only speeds up the analysis of the case but also provides a better understanding of the patient’s vascular anatomy, which is particularly important in kidney surgery. 3D kidneys have also proved to be a vector of communication within the medical and paramedical team, as the actual visualization of tumors can facilitate the anticipation of surgical difficulties.

Innovative surgical training

Phase 1 of the project showed the benefits in terms of pre-therapeutic education and patient support, planning of the operation for the surgeon and education of students in terms of learning to read an MRI scan. It is now entering phase 2,” announced Jean-Christophe Bernhard during the reception at the Bordeaux University Foundation. The 3D Kidney Print teams’ aim is to create surgical training models that will make it possible to simulate surgery in the future on a model of the kidney printed in three dimensions. The teams then plans on developing the application of these innovative models, thus contributing to groundbreaking training for future surgeons.

Further information

Launched in 2017, the 3D Kidney Print project is supported by the Nouvelle-Aquitaine Region, the European Union and the Fund for Research and Innovation in Kidney Surgery.

Coordinated by Professor Jean-Christophe Bernhard, the Fund for Research and Innovation in Kidney Surgery aims to facilitate the introduction of research developments (3D printing, minimally-invasive robotic surgery, etc.) to the care offered to patients suffering from kidney cancer. It is supported by Stratasys.

> Visit the Fund for Research and Innovation in Kidney Surgery's website.


Jean-Christophe Bernard
Professor and hospital doctor

Lionel Gaury
Bordeaux University Foundation