RSNA: 3D printing takes radiology to the next level

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CHICAGO—3D printing represents a valuable technological asset to the radiology community, according to research presented Dec. 2 at the annual meeting of the Radiological Society of North America (RSNA).

“There is a large increase in 3D printing, as well as the ability for increased revenue amongst many vendors to pull towards 3D printing in medical application, landing squarely with radiology,” said Frank Rybicki, MD, PhD, of Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston. “Radiologists should be very interested in the process and should capitalize on it.”

The future applications of 3D printing could bring radiology to the next level in the healthcare industry. Rybicki believes that the method could be used for prenatal applications, allowing for printing of fetus anomalies as well as the betterment of communication with parents. Individualized organ printing could become possible for bio-printing, and transplantation, transcatheter aortic valve replacement planning, and patient specific valves could be printed in the vascular application.

However, several obstacles currently stand in the way between full integration of 3D printing and visualization in the radiology realm. These hindrances include workflow, cost, and distribution.

“What we as radiologists need to do is move from a parallel structure to a series structure, where you can go back and forth between looking at something on the visualization platform and printing it on a 3D printer,” said Rybicki. Streamlining the workflow would allow for 3D printing to become more of a clinical reality for radiology.

Enabling the printing for multiple modalities such as CT, MR, and ultrasound would also improve the viability of 3D printing for radiologists.

Costs seem to pose a major problem for the feasibility of 3D printing, as typical models can range anywhere from $100 to $1,000. As of now, models are priced by cubic inch of fabrication or by weight. Rybicki suggested establishing some sort of reimbursement program, which should be possible as data is already demonstrating 3D printing’s ability to improve partnerships between radiologists and brain clinicians.

The limited number of materials available could also pose an issue for the development of 3D printing in radiology, as well as the need for expertise. It must become more mainstream if it’s going to be consistently used to advance patient care.

“I think all of these factors will be overcome and we’ll have more widespread use of the 3D printing, showing that it definitely will benefit patient outcomes,” concluded Rybicki.