The Mayo Clinic is using radiological imaging on a regular basis, creating point-of-care 3D anatomical models to aid physicians so frequently that 3D printing has become a regular component of patient treatment.

Point-of-care manufacturing is a technology that enables the process to be performed on site where it’s needed. One of the fastest growing areas of the evolving 3D printing industry is in point-of-care biomedical/medical applications. Using medical imaging data, a hospital’s radiology department manufactures life-size tangible anatomical models that are used for surgical planning and guidance, simulations, diagnoses and patient education.

The Mayo Clinic has taken its use further, using it regularly and creating a state-of -the-art infrastructure to support it. 3D printing is part of the organization’s standard of care, IT operations, sterilization procedures and quality control process, says Jonathan Morris, MD, co-director of the Mayo Clinic radiology department’s 3D anatomic modeling lab in Rochester, Minn.

The Clinic also had to address additional issues, such as how to incorporate the models into the electronic health record, determining when the use of 3D printing is clinically appropriate, even how to label the models so that they are HIPAA-compliant.

“We’re the leader (in this discipline). We’re manufacturers, not tinkerers. You can’t just purchase a 3D printer and software package,” says Morris.

Amy Alexander, the lab’s biomedical engineer, agrees. “Just because you can do something once does not mean it’s done on a regular basis as part of regular patient care. It’s not a laser jet printer. You don’t just push a button,” she explains.

The lab has grown exponentially, from 10 to 20 3D models a year when it first opened in 2006 to more than 1,000 annually. The lab handled 700 patient cases last year, using imaging scans to print several models for each case, according to Alexander. Many of the models need to be created on short notice. “We have deliverables and have to design something rapidly,” says Morris.

The team has helped other hospitals establish their own 3D printing labs. “Our goal is to advance the specialty and get it to as many people as we can so the specialty itself can grow. Not everyone can get to the Mayo Clinic,” says Morris. Morris and Alexander will be discussing their program at SME’s 3D printing RAPID + TCT meeting in April.

The point of care manufacturing does require teamwork.

“We’ve had to marry different kinds of surgeons with unique needs with our expertise in radiology and the engineers who create the physical design,” says Alexander.

“We’ve developed our own 3D printing clinical culture to collaborate. It’s not often you find that. It’s unique,” says Alexander.

The specialty is not without its challenges. For example, a vascular surgeon specializing in stenting aortic aneurysms needed a stent for a complex aneurysm. However, such a stent did not exist. He asked the lab to create a model of the patient’s aorta so he could use it to create the kind of stent he needed for surgery the next week. He had a working prototype in four days. “That can’t happen without collaboration and multidisciplinary integration,” says Morris.

The biggest obstacle? Figuring out how to communicate. “We all come from different disciplines and different lexicons,” says Morris.

“Everyone comes together because it’s not about us. It’s how to help the patient,” says Morris.

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