Interview: Dr. Jon Zabaleta

Jon ZabaletaDr. Jon Zabaleta obtained his MD and PhD in Medicine from the University of the Basque Contry (UPV / EHU), Thoracic Surgeon at Universitary Hospital Donostia and Associate Professor of Biomedical Engineering at Tecnun-School of Engineers (University of Navarra). Impulse and coordinator of the Multicenter workgroup of the Spanish Society of Thoracic Surgery (SECT) for the “use of 3D models to Improve preoperative surgical planning study and thoracic pathology in Patients With.”
Dr. Zabaleta was a speaker at 3DHEALS VIGO EVENT 2017. 

Jenny: What inspired you to use 3D printing in your work?

Jon: First of all, I was so lucky to discover the work in maxillofacial surgery that 3D printing was doing from my colleague Pedro Martinez Seijas. Some months after, we were planning a broncho-plastic procedure to preserve as much as possible of lung parenchyma in a lung cancer patient. It’s a very stressful procedure and many times we are not sure if we will be able to suture both sides of the resection. With this case, we started thinking about 3D printing to improve the preoperative study in general thoracic surgery.


Jenny: Wha is the biggest motivation for your work?

A: Our patients. They are expecting us to give the best we can, and my promise to the patients it’s the most important. We are a team of four thoracic surgeons in San Sebastian, and we are all trying to keep up-to-date in the latest techniques, studying and always trying to do our best for our patients.

Jenny: What is the biggest challenge in your work?

Jon: Without any doubt the Thoracic oncology. In this moment, lung cancer is the highest cancer-related cause in Europe and the USA, and we are still operating on only 20% of them. We have good results after surgery, but we need to improve the percentage of patients coming to the OR.

Jenny: How do you approach working with people with different backgrounds?

Jon: It’s very important to be open minded, and never judge. Everyone can be great in his area and know nothing in a new field. The most important thing is to create an environment without fears about saying anything. And with all the ideas, start creating something new, or with already existing technology, giving them a new use. It’s very important to forget the old days when the boss/chief was supposed to know everything, these days the knowledge is so wide, that nobody can know everything in every area. For real teamwork what we need is humility.

Jenny: How do you plan to conquer this challenge?

Jon: Teamwork is the key. This is our best bet. We want to work together with engineers, radiologist, and surgeons. Because when we are working together, we are improving the study quality of the case we are working with, but in addition to that, we are learning a lot of things about general radiology or general engineer science and culture. Because I realize that engineers and medicine doctors we have similar ways of working, and many times similar personalities. But we live parallel lives, and when we start mixing them, anything can happen.

Jenny: What is your vision on the potential impact of your current work to the future of medicine?

Jon: We think that after our work with 3D printing for preoperative study, it will become part of the routine for some cases. Our main goal is to determine in which cases we can perform 3D models, in which cases a virtual model can be enough, and in which cases a 3D printed model is helpful and necessary. We think that the next step will be around airway stenosis, trying to print personalized stents for airways.



Jenny: What is the biggest change/improvement since last year this time?

Jon: The field of general thoracic surgery is under explored because of two big difficulties: 1) we have a lot of soft-tissue (that incurs difficulties for segmentation) and 2) we have few cases per hospital annually, which makes the learning curve difficult. The biggest change or achievement for the use of 3D printing, is the creation of a multicenter study in Spain, with 26 hospitals joining the project, and every professional showing different problems with the same goal: give the patients the best solution using already existing technology.

Jenny: What are you passionate about?

Jon: About my family. I have a 4-year-old and a 2-year-old son and I love to play with them in the afternoon and weekends. I love planning holidays with my wife and whole family because, with our work, one thing I have learned is that today we are here, but what about tomorrow? I never say no to a plan that I like. Live life fully.

Jenny: What do you enjoy in your spare time?

Jon: To stay with my family and sports: soccer, speed skating, running… and one thing that my wife and I discovered 3 or 4 years ago: escape rooms. We have a lot of fun with them and when we are going to different cities for the weekend, we always try to go to a escape room.

Jenny: What else do you want to share with us?

Jon: We find a very interesting thing with 3D printing, which on many occasions people don’t speak about because you can’t measure it and it’s not a monetary thing. When you show a 3D model to a patient, a special link between the patient and doctor is made. This model makes the patient feel special, he knows that he is not the patient of Monday or patient in room 220, he knows that for the surgeon this is a special case and we are offering him a special solution specifically built for him. And to feel this with patients, it’s something marvelous.