"From virtualization to 3D actualization"
Dr. Quigley begins by explaining the core of 3D printing in healthcare as a subset of Additive Manufacturing. When applied to medicine, 3D Printing is when medical images from a CT or MRI scan are turned into tangible physical anatomical models. He continues with the history of how STL came about. STL is the basic file format for medical 3D printing software. It's a way of turning volumetric data into a 3D structure.
The basic method for succeeding with Medical 3D Printing, according to Dr. Quigley is to first acquire quality data using good algorithms. Then you segment it carefully with software and decide on the areas you want to keep and turn into a solid object. This segmentation is a very important part of the process and using dedicated software will produce a more accurate virtual model. Afterwards the data is processed into a series of triangles that will form a structure. The model of triangles is then converted into a pathway, or encoding, for the printer to make the final 3D print. Finally, there's the quality control once the model is printed. You can create virtual phantom models, or download phantom models with which you can compare and assess your own model, says Dr. Quigley.
3D printing tips for setting up your own lab
"Establish a network of collaboration," say Dr. Quigley. It's important to use all resources at hand, online courses and mentorship. In every failure there's a positive side to learn from that will help you solve the next problem, he continues. "Even a failed print can be used for anatomic purposes."
Set your goals, review the printing technologies, and learn the 3D printing process. You may not need your own printer in the beginning, so look at outsourcing options that will offer you a wider choice in materials.
"It's less about the printer, it's more about the people involved and the software you use," concludes Dr. Quigley.
As a radiologist, you can see all the opportunities that 3D Printing can bring by creating anatomical models and encouraging interaction with several departments in your hospital. Watch our Radiology Think webinar series and see for yourself!