The promise of 3-D printing as a tool for medical professionals has been an increasingly tantalizing topic for many years, but the cost and availability of the hardware and software have limited its use. Ongoing advances in 3-D printing technology, however, are leading to new possibilities in medical training and procedure planning. That will be one of the cutting-edge topics addressed during today’s hands-on workshop, “Evolving technology: 3-D printing + IVUS + robots in IR,” beginning at 1 p.m. in the Expo, Hands-on 1.
“The change in the technology has been twofold,” said Michael Itagaki, MD, an interventional radiologist at Swedish Medical Center in Seattle and creator of the 3-D printing education and resource website embodi3d.com. “One, the printers are getting cheaper. They’ve come down from about a quarter of a million dollars not too long ago to around three thousand dollars today for a good, high-quality 3-D printer.”
The second component is the cost and the compatibility of the necessary software.
“For the most part, the only software that has been available is professional engineering software, which is very expensive to license, and is not compatible with our imaging files,” he said. “The problem has been taking a CT scan or MRI or ultrasound file and converting it to a format, usually an STL (stereolithography) file, which is a standard engineering file format that’s used for all the 3-D printers.”
Dr. Itagaki said there are currently a couple of companies developing 3-D printing software customized specifically for medical applications, adding that he and others have made progress in working out open source and freeware solutions. The compatibility issue is key, he said, because it is the ability to use standard imaging files that allows physicians to “print” exact replicas of a specific patient’s anatomy.
He believes that ability is about to usher in a new era in procedural planning and training.
“We can create precise models of vascular systems from real patients that are designed to facilitate, for example, the deployment and retrieval of IVC filters and the deployment of coils and embolization devices,” Dr. Itagaki said. “This technology allows you to basically simulate an entire procedure on a benchtop model using real anatomy, which is something that has never been possible before.”
While there are still some challenges that have to be overcome, particularly in the area of software compatibility, Dr. Itagaki believes the technology is progressing quickly and that 3-D printing will soon be a common tool for IRs and other physicians.
“That is my ultimate goal — I want 3-D printing to be available to everybody because I think it’s a very powerful technology,” he said. “If 3-D printing can help all of the doctors out there, IRs as well as all surgeons and people who do procedures, and help them feel confident to do advanced or complicated cases that might be on the edge of their ability, then that could have a dramatic impact on all of medicine.”
For today’s workshop, Dr. Itagaki will have several 3-D printed vascular training models on display at the workshop, including a full-size IVC filter deployment/retrieval model as well as a full-size abdominal arterial embolization model.
For more information on Dr. Itagaki’s work, including resources, educational materials and video tutorials, visit embodi3d.com.