Precision is key when it comes to ailments of the brain such as a tumor or blocked artery. Determining the size, shape and severity of these issues can be just as challenging when trying to diagnose and treat them too. Thankfully, 3D printing is providing aide to doctors and surgeons by giving them the ability to 3D print extremely accurate replicas of these growths and damages. This method was suggested by Dr. Darin Okuda who published his successes of diagnosing and understanding brain injuries in patients suffering from multiple sclerosis using 3D printing.

Dr. Okuda observing a 3D printed brain lesion.

Okuda and his team performed this by analyzing MRI scans of the MS patients’ brains and then 3D printing exact models of the injuries that were detected.

A scan like this one only gives a limited idea of the shape of the lesion

“What you see on plain 2-dimensional views does not give one a clear understanding as to the true shape of the lesion itself,” Okuda

told me. “By studying lesions in 3D, we are looking at these findings in an entirely different way, assessing their shape and surface characteristics.”

Okuda’s team was able to identify multiple features of MS brain injuries, such as asymmetry and complex surface structures, that distinguish them from the other types of brain injuries. These lesions were very difficult to identify through the MRI scans, but by 3D printing these scans, doctors were able to see and observe them much more easily.

“Prior to the release of our work, we were describing multiple sclerosis lesions incorrectly,” said Okuda. “Lesions from MS are still described as being ‘ovoid’ in shape and ‘well circumscribed’ in character. Based on our 3D work, we know that this is not the case. We were amazed at the complexity of MS lesions and would argue that conventional terms previously used in our field may not be accurate after a review in physical 3D form.”

The benefits this method provides could potentially be the determinant in proper diagnosis. The cost and speed of 3D printing allows doctors to conveniently print these models off in a very efficient way. Having the ability to physically show the the patient these objects helps to provide understanding, explore treatment options and show the impact of treatments, essentially serving as a better alternative to traditional visualizations and diagrams.

Dr. Okuda showing off his lesion collection

3D printing provides a major advantage to the medical and health care industries. Dr. Okuda’s method is just one of the groundbreaking developments that 3D printing has allowed to flourish. Dr. Okuda and his team plan to explore further capabilities with 3D printing with hopes of potentially finding a way to predict clinical outcomes. 3D printing is at last beginning to break through in the medical field, and needs to be adopted much more frequently.

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