Mayo Clinic 3-D models bring patient anatomy back to real world

ROCHESTER, Minn. — Mayo Clinic’s 3-D anatomic modeling program started with a realization that surgeons needed a new way to look at human anatomy that went beyond two-dimensional images.

Surgeons who were planning the separation of conjoined twins in 2008 approached the Department of Radiology about producing a three-dimensional model of the babies’ shared liver.

The rest is history, with the 3-D anatomical modeling program growing exponentially over the last eight years. Since that time the Mayo Clinic has invested in four industrial 3-D printers in the Department of Engineering and three of various technologies in the Department of Radiology. They routinely run nonstop in the Department of Radiology.

“Our surgeons were really the ones to request a physical model,” says Jay Morris, M.D., a Mayo Clinic neuroradiologist. The models provide a patient-specific, life-size sense of scale, helping surgeons better visualize difficult anatomy, especially when something like a tumor is changing the anatomy. On the screen, Dr. Morris says, adult anatomy and child anatomy look the same size, for example.

“A lot of perception comes through touch, although you’re not aware of it because we live in the physical world. We work with three-dimensional objects all day, so you’re brain doesn’t have to come up with — how big is something, what size is that — from a collection of axial images,” he adds. “The same thing happens in surgery. Surgeons can stop looking at the radiographic images and trying to compile what this image looks like in real space and how they’re going to operate on it.

“They can just hold the model and turn it and rotate it and have a sense of where they’re going to put the patient on the table, where can they make their cuts or can they make different cuts that they didn’t think were previously possible because now they have a three-dimensional, life-size object that’s patient-specific.”

The models also help patients and their families better understand what is going on with their bodies and what Mayo Clinic specialists are going to do to help.

“If you give the patient a model, it allows them to physically hold their own bones, for example, outside of their body, but also allows them to understand why a surgeon might have to cut somewhere, or what the risks are, what the benefits are,” Dr. Morris says. “What we’ve been able to do is take patients’ anatomy and bring it back into the real world.”

With demand growing, Dr. Morris and his co-director, Jane Matsumoto, M.D., a pediatric radiologist, continue to work in a multidisciplinary fashion with all of the surgical and medical specialties throughout Mayo Clinic. “We’re developing new ways to take out tumors through less-invasive means so that the larger surgeries don’t have to be done,” he says. “At our institution, 3-D printing is changing the landscape of oncologic surgeries, simulation, patient education, and device creation. It is bringing in-house manufacturing into the hospital setting in a way never possible before. “

Dr. Morris and Dr. Matsumoto will again have a significant display at the Radiological Society of North America’s (RSNA) Scientific Assembly and Annual Meeting in Chicago, as well as co-founding a special interest group under the RSNA umbrella specifically for 3-D printing. The co-directors will be giving demonstrations, presenting research, and sharing their expertise with radiologists from around the western hemisphere at the conference, which runs through Friday.