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ARRS: Radiologists Foresee Bright Future For 3D Printing

ARRS: Radiologists Foresee Bright Future For 3D Printing

May 7, 2019 -- HONOLULU - What are the predominant applications of 3D printing in healthcare, and what lies ahead for the technology? Radiologists from the U.S., Canada, and South Korea envisioned a bright future for medical 3D printing in a Sunday featured course at the American Roentgen Ray Society (ARRS) 2019 meeting.

Many current medical applications for 3D printing already exist, all of which can be organized into four overarching categories:

  • Personalizing patient care

  • Teaching and training

  • Bioprinting (e.g., tissue and organ fabrication)

  • Pharmaceutical research

Among these, the individualization of medical care may have the most meaningful effect in the near term and seems to be most relevant for radiologists, Dr. Jane Matsumoto of the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, MN, told course attendees.

"It really all comes down to care, and it's not just care -- it's individualized medicine," she said. "3D printing is the ultimate individualized medicine. You take what's unique to a patient, and because you can use 3D printing you help take care of them in a way that you wouldn't be able to otherwise."

Personalized Patient Care

At Vanderbilt University's 2018 Tikkun Olam Makers (TOM) makeathon, participants were asked to present a simple, mostly homemade solution to a real medical scenario. The challenge? Figure out a way to enable a 5-year-old boy with dysmorphic hands to write.

Dr. Sumit Pruthi and colleagues from Monroe Carell Jr. Children's Hospital at Vanderbilt eagerly accepted the charge. They purchased Play-Doh from a local convenience store and used it to make a mold of the boy's hand. Then they digitized the clay mold using a high-resolution optical scanner and turned it into a cast. By wearing the cast, the boy was finally able to hold on to a pen and write without additional assistance.

"This is an example of using a technology that is not only cutting edge on its own terms but can be very simple to use and really transformative for someone's life," Pruthi, chief of pediatric neuroradiology at the hospital, said during his talk.

Following this spirit of innovation, researchers at Vanderbilt have been using 3D printing to solve a variety of medical problems by personalizing patient care. In the context of neuroradiology, Pruthi classified the ongoing work into several distinct components:

  • Improving patient understanding: When it comes to neurosurgical procedures, particularly craniosynostosis, patients typically have a lot of questions -- about the surgery, why the incision has to be so long, and why they have to undergo surgery at all, Pruthi noted.

"Having a 3D model of the bone, which they can hold in their hand, can help them understand what the surgeon is trying to achieve," he said. "The whole idea here is to [encourage] informed decision-making, which then sets expectations appropriately."

  • Improving patient comfort: Neuroradiologists have relied on 3D printing to construct face-immobilization masks, among other objects, that are individually tailored to patients based on their MRI scans. These objects must also conform to specific requirements that allow for use inside an MRI system.

  • Enhancing diagnostic quality: The production of patient-specific 3D-printed models demands high-resolution imaging data, with negligible discrepancy between the model and diagnostic images. As a result, the 3D-printed models offer highly accurate visualization of, and tangible interaction with, patient anatomy.

For intricate cases such as craniofacial trauma, holding a 3D-printed model in one's hand is worth more than a thousand words or, in this case, images, Pruthi said.

  • Presurgical planning and navigation: Possibly the most widely employed application of medical 3D printing is helping surgical teams plan and simulate procedures before they set foot in the operating room. Numerous case studies have confirmed that supplementing presurgical planning with 3D-printed models can reduce operating times, boost surgical accuracy, and improve functional outcomes.

  • Creating customized parts, prostheses, and implants: Neuroradiologists at Vanderbilt, for example, have used medical images of the faces of children with a craniofacial deformity to create customized 3D-printed masks for them.