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Not all printing companies are churning out books and business cards these days (though there are still 27,397,260 of the latter printed each day); doctors in Shanghai were able to successfully separate a pair of 12-week-old conjoined twins June 9 after practicing the surgery on a 3D-printed model of the girls’ bodies based off CT and MRI scans.
“With the 3D model, we could better understand the actual anatomical structure of the twin girls’ conjoined parts. And it helped us to decide on a more precise starting point on the body,” Dr. Zheng Shan, who led the team at Children’s Hospital of Fudan University, told ChinaDaily.com.
Although the hospital is known for expertise in separating conjoined twins, having performed six such surgeries in the past 15 years, this surgery was a new challenge because the infants were conjoined at the hip, as opposed to the chest or abdomen. The birth of conjoined twins is already rare, occurring once in approximately every 200,000 births worldwide, but only 18% of those cases involve children conjoined at the hip.
The parents of the girls, whose names have not been published, did not know about their daughters’ condition until they were born in Ganzhou City March 17. They were then sent to Shanghai for the operation, but the doctors there decided to wait until the twins were three months old and weighed 10 kilograms (approximately 22 pounds).
Prior to the surgery, they were connected at the lower spine and shared a lower bowel. The doctors were able to separate the digestive tract and parts of the nervous system, as well as reconstruct both girls’ perineal areas and damaged muscles and skin.
As the BBC noted June 10, this isn’t the first time doctors have been able to simulate a complex surgery in order to improve its odds of success; last year, U.S. surgeons were able to use a 3D-printed model to create a “road map” for correcting the flawed structure of a two-week-old infant’s heart.