Shanghai uses 3-D technology to separate conjoined twins

Twelve-week-old conjoined twin girls from Jiangxi province were separated at Children's Hospital of Fudan University in Shanghai on Tuesday.

Twelve-week-old conjoined twin girls from Jiangxi province were successfully separated at a Shanghai hospital on Tuesday with the assistance of 3-D printing technology.

Medical checks showed that the girls, weighing a combined 9.55 kg, were connected by soft tissue at the hips. They shared a 10-centimeter anal tube, but had separate digestive systems.

The surgery started at 10:20 am and lasted about five hours.

Pediatric surgery expert Zheng Shan, vice-president of Children's Hospital of Fudan University, who led the surgery, said the operation included body separation, nerve system repairs and anus rebuilding.

Ten doctors, from the neurosurgery, plastic surgery and general surgery departments, participated in the operation.

The hospital pioneered the use of 3-D printing technology in this surgery. It had sent the girls' CT and MRI data information to a 3-D printing company to rebuild the anatomical structure of the conjoined body parts.

"With the 3-D 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," Zheng said.

Zheng also said the vaginas of the girls are complete, and their perineal parts are fully established, so their childbearing ability will not be affected.

The girls were born on March 17 at a hospital in Ganzhou, Jiangxi province. Their conjoined condition was discovered only after they were delivered. Earlier prenatal checks showed only that they were twins.

The twins were soon taken to Fudan University's children's hospital, which has experience in separating conjoined babies. Since 2000, the hospital has handled separations of four symmetrical conjoined twins and two asymmetric twins.

Doctors said the ideal time for such a surgery is when the twins are three months old and with a weight of about 10 kg, enough for them to endure the surgery and recover.

Doctors also said it might take three days for the girls to get out of danger.

"We have given special attention to some possible complications, such as cerebrospinal fluid leak, which may lead to purulent meningitis and produce life risk," Zheng said.

A charity group donated 200,000 yuan (S$43,000) to help pay for the procedure.

The hospital said conjoined twins are rare. Most are connected at the chest and abdomen. Only 18 per cent are connected at the hip.

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