The Importance of 3D Modeling in Healthcare

3D medical printing pioneer, Dr. Matthew Bramlet discusses the future of the Advanced Imaging and Modeling program at Jump.

January 14, 2016

Hands holding 3D Printed HeartIt was more than two years ago when I got wind of Jump purchasing a 3D printer. As a pediatric cardiologist, all I could think of is how this tool could revolutionize imaging of the tiniest of hearts and change the course of a patient's life.

Jump ran with this idea of converting 2-dimensional images of the heart into exact 3D printed replicas that surgeons could hold in their hands and utilize for surgical planning. These models have improved the surgical outcomes for many patients, and led to the creation of the National Institutes of Health 3D Heart Library.

Our imaging and modeling methods have grown significantly since the first heart was printed. We now have a team of engineers at Jump and University of Illinois working to advance the diagnostic effectiveness of imaging tests around the world.

AIMing for a Better View

The Advanced Imaging and Modeling (AIM) program at Jump is improving the exact replication process of anatomical structures using emerging 3D technologies.

There's a solid foundation at Jump to print pediatric hearts and other hollow organs using a refined manual process. But how do you effortlessly look inside the solid structures of the brain, liver, or even the pathology of tumors? Solving this issue could be a major breakthrough in healthcare.

Here's a great example of the work we're achieving.

This is a 3D model of a patient with lung cancer observed over four points in time. It was created in collaboration with Dr. Beth Ripley from the University of Washington. The yellow represents the cancer within this person's lung. The thing I didn't appreciate until this rendering was made is how invasive this cancer is and how it wraps around the organs. The result of this work is improved understanding and an incredible tool for cross-specialty communication.

2D vs 3D

Doctors all over the world are currently working with so-called "surrogates of anatomy" from CT and MRI scans. These images have a 3D data set but are viewed within the scope of 2D—leaving an opening for different types of interpretation.

Radiologists spend their whole careers looking at complex 2D images with the goal of conveying that information to clinicians who don't have the same background. In many cases, specialists making medical decisions have to walk through these images several times to fully understand them.

This is where new 3D technologies such as augmented and virtual realities and holographic displays come into play. 3D modeling can make viewing anatomical images intuitive across all clinical specialties leading to better diagnoses, surgical planning, education, and outcomes. The simplicity of these models also allows for better communication with families.

The overall goal of AIM is to create a future state where clinicians can interact with human anatomy and pathology in a way they've never been able to do before. There's so much untapped potential for improved understanding with 3D modeling. I look forward to a new reality where 3D analysis of medical images outweighs 2D-changing healthcare outcomes for the better.

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