3D printing poised to reshape medicine

As more stories about 3D printing in medicine emerge, the question shifts from “Is it the next big thing?” to “Has it already arrived?”

3D printing has quickly evolved from its birth in the manufacturing industry to showing off a number of medical applications, and the radiologists who work regularly with 3D datasets should take notice. The technique can be used to aid orthopedic surgeons in pre-operative planning or create custom made prosthetics. It can also be useful as a model for patients who may not be able to understand their conditions when shown an image but benefit from manipulating a tangible 3D model.

The Radiological Society of North America (RSNA) has highlighted the growing role of 3D printing both at its annual meeting and in its publications. One project showcased by RSNA was the work of Zbigniew Starosolski, PhD, of Texas Children’s Hospital in Houston, and colleagues. Their work focused on using CT imaging of young patients diagnosed with subtalar coalition, a tissue abnormality connecting bones in feet, to segment structures for 3D printing. The researchers found substantial agreement between manual reads and the 3D print.

Looking ahead to RSNA 2014, 3D printing looks to have an even larger presence, with sessions detailing the use of 3D printing in radiology practice and in-depth looks at new techniques and applications.

Outside of medicine, 3D printing has been used by paleontologists to create fossil replicas, and it even enabled the recreation of replacement parts for musical instruments.

It would be wise to keep an eye on this quickly evolving technology. For more examples, check out the 2013 Health Imaging feature “The Cutting Edge: 3D Printing in Medicine.” If your institution or one you are familiar with is doing innovative work with 3D printing, we’d love to learn more about it!

-Evan Godt
Editor – Health Imaging