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3D Printed Vascular Models Helping to Improve Patient Care, Train Doctors and Test New Devices

Dr. Iyer evaluates a 3D printed patient-specific heart model during a surgery dry run prior to treating the patient.
Dr. Iyer evaluates a 3D printed patient-specific heart model during a surgery dry run prior to treating the patient.

Physicians at the Jacobs Institute, a newly designated Stratasys-supported Center of Excellence, the University at Buffalo’s Clinical and Translational Research Center (CTRC) and Kaleida Health’s Vascular Institute in Buffalo, New York, have been relying on Stratasys’ PolyJet 3D printing solutions to develop treatment plans for life-threatening vascular issues such as aneurysms, stroke and blood clots. In addition to making exact models to match specific patients, Stratasys 3D Printers are being used to create pieces for medical training as well and to develop trial runs for new treatment protocols.

“We use 3D printing technology and materials to create a lifelike vascular environment that isn’t achievable any other way,” said Mike Springer, Director of Operations and Entrepreneurship at the Jacobs Institute.

Complex, Life-Threatening Problems Get Personalized Attention

Based on patients’ CT and MRI data, the 3D printed models that emerge from Stratasys’ PolyJet-based  3D Printers are extremely precise. Physicians can use them to create treatment plans, to practice surgeries in advance and to visually explain to patients how they will be treated.

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Second-year medical students in training using 3D printed vascular models.
Second-year medical students in training using 3D printed vascular models.

“3D printing is valuable in planning complex procedures with a team. Without it, we prepare for complications on a theoretical basis,” said Dr. Vijay Iyer, an interventional cardiologist. “Many times, despite the best theoretical planning, we are faced with circumstances where we don’t know what to do.”

Converting real patient-derived anatomy into realistic 3D models allows physicians to integrate visual and tactile clues into their surgical plan. Physical models allow the team to test theories and reveal potential complications before the patient is on the table and time is critical.

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Training Doesn’t Get More Lifelike

Rare conditions are no longer “untrainable.” 3D printing provides the chance for physicians in training and researchers to deal with complex health care situations based on real cases. Instead of waiting to train on new procedures, physicians at the Jacobs Institute use 3D printed vascular models of patients with stroke, clots, aneurysms and other pathologies to develop surgical skills in a no-risk environment. Models are customized to present a range of anatomies so physician participants are exposed to a variety of real-life scenarios when treating patients. Training on 3D printed models can be done virtually anywhere, avoiding the cost and complexity of operating in the controlled environments required for animals and human cadavers. Additionally, 3D printed models can mimic a range of tissues more realistically than processed cadavers, which no longer retain the feeling of live tissue.

This 3D printed vascular testing model allows medical device designers and engineers to gather valuable performance feedback on device performance.
This 3D printed vascular testing model allows medical device designers and engineers to gather valuable performance feedback on device performance.

“3D vascular models represent a new paradigm for training the next generation of doctors. This paradigm includes surgical and endovascular simulation and skills evaluation before they are allowed to treat patients,” said Dr. L. Nelson Hopkins, founder of the Jacobs Institute and the Gates Vascular Institute.

Validating Device Performance with 3D Printed Anatomical Models

3D printed sectioning block used for rodent brain dissection. The slices created by the segmentation fixture are 2 mm thick and the slots allow a 200-micron blade.
3D printed sectioning block used for rodent brain dissection. The slices created by the segmentation fixture are 2 mm thick and the slots allow a 200-micron blade.

3D printing enables the Jacobs Institute to accelerate and improve medical device design, and the team at CTRC also does preclinical testing for product validation using customized anatomical models to capture feedback on device performance.

“Recently, we tested how effectively a particular device could reach the brain depending on tortuosity of the anatomy. We designed a series of models with differing levels of tortuosity, then tested the devices,” said Dr. Adnan Siddiqui, chief medical officer at the Jacobs Institute, vice chairman and professor of neurosurgery at University at Buffalo Neurosurgery, and director of neurosurgical stroke service at Kaleida Health. “This is impossible to do in animals and patients, but 3D printing makes it easy in a smooth, streamlined process.”

In addition to improving new device performance, the early feedback that designers glean from real-anatomy testing lets them avoid costly, potentially unsuccessful animal testing.

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The Jacobs Institute, Kaleida Health’s Gates Vascular Institute and University at Buffalo’s Clinical and Translational Research Center use 3D printing as a platform for developing cutting-edge medical solutions.
The Jacobs Institute, Kaleida Health’s Gates Vascular Institute and University at Buffalo’s Clinical and Translational Research Center use 3D printing as a platform for developing cutting-edge medical solutions.

Ciprian Ionita, Ph.D., is a research assistant professor of biomedical engineering and neurosurgery at University at Buffalo. His team at the Jacobs Institute regularly uses a 3D printer to create custom fixtures for scientific equipment and experiments. “Using our in-house Stratasys 3D printer, we don’t rely on external machine shops that would generate both lag time and expense. Most of these fixtures and components can be 3D printed within a few hours,” said Dr. Ionita.

Through its collaboration with GVI and CTRC, the Jacobs Institute is harnessing the power of a 3D printing platform in all aspects of health care.

Watch this video to learn how 3D printing is becoming an indispensable tool for the future of medicine!

This post is also available in: Portuguese (Brazil)

Michael Gaisford

Michael Gaisford

Michael Gaisford comes to Stratasys after 10 years in the medical device and pharmaceutical industry, working for Boston Scientific, Health Advances, and Genentech. He lives in Berlin, MA (correctly pronounced as BUR-lin) with his family and ill-behaved Rhodesian Ridgeback. In his “free” time he coaches kids sports, supports scouting groups, and plays basketball.

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