Nick Bartz, Imaging Performance Partnership
Over the last few years, advances in medical imaging technology and image post-processing have improved CT and MRI in a variety of ways; increasing imaging quality and producing high quality 3D and 4D data for diagnostic and interventional use. However, new developments in a technology called rapid prototyping might soon take 3D images off the screen and into our hands, transforming multidimensional imaging data into actual physical objects.
Rapid prototyping is the automatic construction of physical objects using additive manufacturing technology, essentially a process that converts a 3D image into a physical model using a special type of 3D printer. Now, radiologists are finding ways for rapid prototyping to advance their field, putting precise models of patient anatomy in surgeons' hands. There are three major parts to the process from medical imaging to 3D solid objects. The images are acquired using CT or MRI, transferred to a dedicated image post-processing workstation where a process called 3D segmentation and visualization is performed, then finally the processed image data is exported to the rapid prototyping machines which generate a solid 3D object.
A group of Israeli radiologists are already using the technology simplify complex cases and improve the planning of interventional procedures. In a recent presentation at the 2011 meeting of the International Society for Computed Tomography (ISCT) in San Francisco, Dr. Jacob Sosna explained how the technology is giving surgeons an “improved ability to understand complex anatomy” and an “opportunity for hands-on interaction when they perform the procedure." Dr Sosna has also indicated that their team has data supporting that the technique is improving outcomes in complex cases and reducing operating room time.
Though widespread medical use of rapid prototyping has so far been curtailed by size and cost limitations, the technique is currently seeing a tremendous growth of interest and technological development. As the technology advances, new applications will undoubtedly emerge in the fields of individualized patient care, medical training, and research.