University of Notre Dame researchers have successfully created three-dimensional anatomical models from CT scans using 3-D printing technology, a process that holds promise for medical professionals and their patients. A paper by the researchers, “3D Printing of Preclinical X-ray Computed Tomographic Data Sets,” was published in the Journal of Visualized Experiments this week.
The strategy was initiated last spring by then-freshman Evan Doney, a Glynn Family Honors student in the laboratory of W. Matthew Leevy, research assistant professor at the Notre Dame Integrated Imaging Facility. “It’s a very clever idea,” Leevy said. “He did a lot of it independently. He figured out how to convert the tomographic data to a surface map for editing and subsequent 3-D printing.”
The paper reports results based on using X-ray CT data sets from a living Lobund-Wistar rat from the Freimann Life Science Center and from the preserved skull of a New Zealand white rabbit in the laboratory of Matthew Ravosa. Co-authors of the article with Doney, Leevy and Ravosa are Lauren Krumdick, Justin Diener, Connor Wathen, Sarah Chapman, Jeremiah Scott and Tony Van Avermaete, all of Notre Dame, and Brian Stamile of MakerBot Industries LLC, a 3-D printing company.
“With proper data collection, surface rendering and stereolithographic editing, it is now possible and inexpensive to rapidly produce detailed skeletal and soft tissue structures from X-ray CT data,” the paper said. "The translation of pre-clinical 3-D data to a physical object that is an exact copy of the test subject is a powerful tool for visualization and communication, especially for relating imaging research to students, or those in other fields.”
“Our project with 3-D printing is part of a broader story about 3-D printing in general,” Leevy said, adding that the work has spawned several more ideas and opportunities, such as providing inexpensive models for anatomy students. “There’s a market for these bones, both from animals and from humans, and we can create them at incredibly low cost. We’re going to explore a lot of these markets.”
A clinical collaborator, Dr. Douglas Liepert from Allied Physicians of Michiana, is enabling the researchers to print nonidentifiable human data, expanding the possibilities. “Not only can we print bone structure, but we’re starting to collect patient data and print out the anatomical structure of patients with different disease states to aid doctors in surgical preparation,” Leevy said.