3-D printer being used to make plastic model organs to save lives

PALO ALTO, Calif. -- 3-D printing is not just being used for making souvenirs, car parts and smartphones. It's being used more and more in hospitals and medical schools.

"It's extraordinary. It truly is transformative in terms of what every day medical practice can be like," one doctor said.

3-D printers are changing lives at Stanford.

The machines aren't just made for TV inventions, as seen on "Grey's Anatomy" where organs, prosthetics and tissues could be made in just a few hours.

At Stanford's bioengineering lab, science and medicine intersect to create detailed, life-sized models of hearts.

"You can see all the different tubes and veins we have," Paul Holding said.

Surgeons can practice technique, approach and options on these 3-D printed organs before operating on an actual patient.

"To get an engineer to make one of those things could cost thousands of dollars. Where as we can go to a 3-D printer, we might be able to get it over night and it may cost a few dollars," said Dr. Paul Wang, a Stanford professor.

Creating these hearts cost less than $100, but it's not just Stanford's Cardiology Department that's printing plastic organs - Stanford's Department of Urology is, too.

"Using 3-D printing, you can make a perfect mold of that patient's prostate, then you can put it in here and use it to section the prostate very accurately," Ross Venook, Ph.D. said.

It's a research project to help cure prostate cancer. While Stanford is using the 3-D machine to create a model of live human tissue, many say having something tangible like this to work with takes things to a whole new level.

"What is it worth to hold something the right size and shape in your hands, I think it's immeasurable," Venook said.

Each printer costs roughly $50,000.

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