Thanks to incredible advancements in 3D printing technology, doctors, medical instructors, and researchers are transforming people’s lives in new ways. Teaching hospitals and medical schools are using 3D printers to create anatomically precise models that look and feel like the real thing. Here are three examples of 3D printing for medical applications.
1. Medical Research
Dr. Darin Okuda, Director of Neuroinnovation at UT Southwestern researches brain lesions related to multiple sclerosis and tumor growth/regression. The use of 3D printed brain lesion reproductions has given his team greater insights into disease evolution and has improved treatment and patient compliance and care.
The shape of a lesion within the brain is nearly impossible to characterize in a 2D MRI or CT scan. However, studying lesions in 3D offers entirely new ways to evaluate them by assessing shape, structure, and surface qualities.
3D printed models are aiding Dr. Okuda’s team in generating new scientific hypotheses for future research. The models are also helping patients understand medical recommendations with more clarity because they are able to hold their own tumor replicas in their hands.
2. Training and Education
A surgical team at Toronto Western Hospital, led by Dr. Vitor Mendes Pereira, a neurosurgeon and neuroradiologist at the hospital’s Krembil Brain Institute, successfully performed the first-ever robot-assisted stent placement and aneurysm coiling procedure a few years ago.
Before that groundbreaking surgery, Dr. Pereira and his team extensively tested and practiced with “anatomical twins,” 3D models that mimiced the structure and texture of the patient’s arteries and surrounding tissue. Model replicas were built using medical scans with BIOMODEX software and printed on Stratasys 3D printers with advanced materials.
The 3D models were printed with dimensional accuracy and mechanical behavior of the original anatomy, down to the microscopic level. The models were paired with a portable simulation station that injected liquids to recreate blood flow. The life-like models provided Dr. Pereira’s team with valuable practice that gave them confidence in surgery and decreased surgery time and associated risks.
3. Pre-Surgical Planning
The Children’s Hospital Colorado sees patients with some of the most complicated congenital heart defects. 3D printed patient-specific models have helped immensely with planning surgeries for specialized conditions.
For surgery for a child with a rare acongenital heart defect, Dr. Mitchell from the Children’s Hospital Colorado approached a team at the University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus for help. They were able to 3D print a patient-specific model, cut into sections to better understand the child’s cardiac anatomy, with materials that simulated the look and feel of the patient’s heart.
Dr. Mitchell and his team were able to use this model to strategize their surgery. The flexible and functional nature of the model allowed them to stretch and pull certain areas to understand the interior topology and flow paths. Holding the model allowed them to visualize what they would see in surgery and plan a more informed approach.
The 3D printed model ultimately resulted in a successful operation conducted differently than Dr. Mitchell’s usual approach because of the information the model provided. He went into the surgery with more confidence in carrying out an efficient and safe surgery.
These examples of 3D printing for medical applications are only a few stories of how technology impacts people’s lives. Stratasys, a leading manufacturer of 3D printers, is continually innovating in this space. Their latest medical printer, the Stratasys J5 MediJet, creates multicolor, multi-material models with biocompatible and sterilization capabilities. We’re looking forward to seeing how 3D printing technology will further advance medical research, training, and surgeries.