3D printing may sound like something out of a science fiction movie, but it is being used in the real world to solve present day problems. Actually, 3D printing has been around since the 1980s and it has been used in the medical field since the early 2000s. In recent years, however, 3D printing has taken off throughout many sectors and has become even more widely used in medicine, especially in radiology.
What Is 3D Printing?
3D printing is an umbrella term that refers to many different methods or processes of creating a three-dimensional, physical object out of a digital design. That means that the printer uses digital blueprints to print an object. Think of how a regular printer prints documents or pictures precisely based off of the digital document or image.
3D printing is done in layers. The printer uses computer aided design (CAD) software and geometric measurements to determine the exact shape of the object and then constructs the object millimeter by millimeter by depositing material in precise layers. The end result is an exact replica, a perfect real-life representation of the image that was previously on the screen.
As you can imagine, the application of this technology can provide untold benefits for the field of medicine, particularly, the field of radiology and diagnostic imaging. Using state-of-the-art diagnostic imaging scans such as CT, MRI, and CAT, and then printing these images into 3D models that are true to life and completely individualized allows physicians and patients to visualize their surgical procedures in newer, more accurate ways.
A diagnostic image such as an MRI or CT scan is typically displayed on a monitor or a screen. These images are unimaginably helpful for accurate diagnosis and treatment of disease; however, the images are as large or as small as the screen they are displayed on. With 3D printing, the tissues are rebuilt in an exact replica; this is useful for extremely difficult, rare, or unique surgeries. Previously, the surgeon could only consult diagnostic images, generic models, and similar case studies before going into a complex surgery. While these things are helpful, they are not exact models, and they do not provide the same insight as a 3D printer does.
3D Printing Even Aided In Separating Conjoined Twins
One of the most famous cases of 3D printing and radiology had to do with separating conjoined twins. In Houston, Texas two twins were joined at the chest all the way down to the pelvis. The twins shared many parts of vital organs and bones, and a surgery to separate them would be extremely difficult and risky. With conjoined twins each case is different. The physicians used a series of CT scans and 3D modeling software to print an exact replica of the entire chest area, so the surgeons could prepare for this intense and unique surgery.
They used the radiological scans to create a color-coded model of the thoracic cavity, and the surgeons could assemble and disassemble the model and practice various procedures and techniques. Unlike traditional surgical models or cadavers, this model represented the exact dimensions and unique problems of the case the surgeons were working on. The medical team planned this procedure out for a year before performing it, and once it started the surgery took approximately 26 hours to complete. The surgery was a success and the twins were separated without complication.
2017's Radiology Advancements
Radiology is such an exciting field of medicine because it is always evolving, and evolving rapidly. From nuclear medicine to interventional procedures, 3D printing to diagnostic imaging, radiology encompasses many areas of medicine and is beneficial to countless procedures and treatments. To learn more about radiology, you can visit the American College Radiology’s website.