Head and neck surgeon Brad Strong holds a model produced by a 3D printer, which can be seen behind him.
3D printed medical models are improving the way UC Davis Health physicians are able to diagnose, treat, and educate patients, medical students, and themselves about health conditions, some of which may be quite rare and difficult to treat. The 3D printer UC Davis Health doctors are using is the desktop printer Ultimaker 3 Extended. It can produce 3D printed models not only of the skull, but other body parts too.
“Facial reconstructive surgery involves intricate anatomy within an extremely narrow operative field in which to maneuver our instruments,” said E. Bradley Strong, a professor of otolaryngology who specializes in facial reconstructive surgery. “Being able to print out a high-resolution 3D model of the injury, allows us to do detailed preoperative planning and preparation that is more efficient and accurate. We can also use these patient specific models in the operating room to improve the accuracy of implant placement.”
Strong and other medical professionals at UC Davis convert CT scans to 3D data, which may take up to a day to finish. The models can be crucial not only for educational purposes, but also for the amount of time they save in the operating room—a feature that insurance companies are becoming more aware of too.
“I couldn’t drive before my surgery with Dr. Strong,” said Joseph Michael, who regained normal vision in his right eye thanks to the involvement of an intricate 3D printed medical model. His resulting surgery lasted for seven and a half hours.
Mr. Michael was attacked in his home in 2013, and sustained injuries to his orbital socket after being hit in the face. In using a 3D model, Dr. Strong was able to mirror the left eye for re-building the right one, along with reconstructing the orbit and cheekbone too.
“Overall, my friends up here [in Grass Valley] and even my eye doctor can’t believe the difference,” said Michael. “Dr. Strong gave me my eyesight back.”
Other 3D models printed out by otolaryngology head and neck surgeon Brad Strong.
The use of 3D printed models offers not only an added method for diagnosing patients but is also an invaluable training tool. With patient specific models, doctors can better explain to patients and their families exactly what is happening within the body along with outlining in 3D what will happen in surgery.
Medical students can use the models to learn from, and seasoned surgeons can also use the models as guides to train on for delicate and sometimes completely new procedures, as well as using them in the operating room.
“With or without a 3D model, Mr. Michael’s surgical incisions would have been very similar,” Strong noted. “But the accuracy of pre-surgical planning and the precision of implant bending and placement were greatly improved. It saves time and enables me to be more efficient and make critical decisions before entering the operating room.”
3D printed skull after post-processing (still image from UC Davis video)
UC Davis School of Veterinary Medicine has also been using 3D printed medical models to improve the quality of life for animals, working in connection with UC Davis Department of Biomedical Engineering.
“There is great value in working together because veterinary medicine is a bit more ‘nimble’ on the development and application side, but the patient needs are very similar,” said Denis Marcellin-Little, professor of small animal orthopedic surgery.
The Translating Engineering Advances to Medicine (TEAM) Lab has been responsible for 3D printing veterinary models, along with working with the UC Davis Department of Radiation Oncology in fabricating boluses, which are sheets of artificial skin meant to adhere to areas where radiation is being applied in patients.
“By enabling intricate anatomy to be translated from computerized data into life-like replicas that clinicians can actually hold, analyze and work with means that challenging medical puzzles will become that much easier to solve,” Lubarsky added.
Today there are many other types of 3D printed devices being used by medical professionals, from 3D printed models of the brain to kidneys and prostates to hearts. Find out more about the UC Davis Health 3D printing project here.
Discuss this article and other 3D printing topics at 3DPrintBoard.com.
[Source / Images: UC Davis Health]