The rise of 3D printing in radiology

Use of technology can help physicians, patients visualize procedures.

The use of 3D printing technology in radiology is not new; Jonathan Morris, an assistant professor of radiology at Mayo Clinic and an interventional spine neuroradiologist has been using it since 2001.

But it’s only in recent years that adoption really ramped up as the technology has matured, he adds. In earlier years, the computing power just wasn’t available to make comprehensive models of an aorta (the main artery of the body), a breast or other body parts. “Over the past five years, there has been improvement in radiology technology to acquire suitable images, and printers are faster, more accessible and less expensive,” Morris says. He and three colleagues during four sessions at RSNA 2016, entitled, “Principles and Practice of 3D Printing,” will walk through the basics of the technology and its evolution.

The value of 3D printing is the ability to make a model of a body area before surgery—to hold that body part, look at it, and talk about it with colleagues before moving to the real thing, he explains. The printer also can make something for the specific body part, such as a stent for an aorta.

The technology simply is an excellent educational tool for radiologists, researchers, device creators and patients, according to Morris. Most patients don’t understand medical images they are shown as a physician explains what has been found and what remedies are being considered. But put a model of an aorta or spine or other body part in their hands, and patient comprehension improves. For instance, if a physician will be removing a tumor, 3D models can show the patient how a pinky finger won’t work anymore because of a the procedure will affect a nerve going through the tumor.

As they have done for several years, Morris and colleagues will help a new crowd of radiologists understand 3D and its promise. “We’ll take those who have some exposure and expand their horizons,” he says. “They may have created an aorta, but don’t know the benefits in neurosurgery, mammography and gastrointestinal.”
The session also will cover newer Food and Drug Administration policies on 3D printing. “We’d like to increase exposure of what 3D printing brings to improve the benefits of patient care,” he concludes.

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