Photo/IllutrationModel livers are made by companies including Marubeni Information Systems Co. This photo was taken in Tokyo’s Shinjuku Ward on April 18. (Takeshi Suezaki)

  • Photo/Illustraion
  • Photo/Illustraion
  • Photo/Illustraion

Four Japanese firms have developed a method for making highly realistic model human livers.

The breakthrough gives surgeons a far more accurate avenue to practice liver surgery and patients facing the procedure the option to create a copy of their liver for doctors to use in a trial run.

The companies, which include Ina Food Industry Co. in Ina, Nagano Prefecture, and Marubeni Information Systems Co. (MSYS) in Tokyo, used 3-D printers and vegetable-based materials to closely reproduce the form and texture of a real human liver.

If the model enters widespread use, it could help protect animals as an alternative to the current situation where doctors use animal organs to practice surgical procedures.

Animal organs have a double downside: They're difficult to acquire and preserve, and animal rights groups remain strongly opposed to their use.

To make the model, the developers first digitized a human liver, scanned it and printed out a 3-D mold of it. Then they attached parts representing resinous blood vessels to it and poured vegetable-based materials into the mold to form the model.

Previous model organs made from resin or film didn’t look similar enough to actual livers or were too hard.

The new model is elastic. When you press it with a finger, the surface of the liver springs back up. The developers also made a transparent version of the model so surgeons could more easily see the blood vessels.

The liver is the largest internal organ in humans, making up about one-50th of a person’s full weight.

They're also packed with blood vessels, making performing surgery on them a complicated procedure, according to MSYS.

A doctor who tested the model commented, “It was very helpful. I was able to imagine being in a surgical situation,” MSYS reported.

The model liver will be sold to medical makers and hospitals starting at 90,000 yen ($822).