Felix Doerr March 25, 2015

A few weeks ago, I had the chance to attend a Materialise seminar about 3D Printing in hospitals near Munich. Drawing a crowd from various medical disciplines, including radiologists, cardiovascular and cranio-maxillofacial surgeons, hospital management, researchers, professors, and so on, the beautiful location with an amazing view over the Starnberger Lake helped make people feel at ease.

To start, we learned how Materialise has grown over the past 25 years, continuously pushing for a better and healthier world. This can be seen in the medical field, where the company offers a smooth flow from medical imaging such as CT or MRI over segmentation to a virtual or printed 3D model, through the Mimics® Innovation Suite.

There was also a presentation on technologies and materials for 3D Printing. It went much further than a mere overview of different machine and manufacturing ways: samples were passed around and advantages and disadvantages were discussed. The movie about how Materialise created the huge Jaguar for a yacht was very impressive – possibilities seem endless. It also made clear that finishing the objects out of a 3D printer is a very extensive process. Many people think that objects are ready immediately when they come out of the printer!

A live demonstration showed how and how fast you can go from medical imaging such as CT or MRI over segmentation to a virtual or printed 3D model. Also, we discussed what you can do with bad quality DICOM data sets, etc. I liked how the audience responded very warmly and asked lots of questions: this really made it very interactive.

Dr. Sonntag from the AME of RWTH in Aachen presented on virtual reconstruction and 3D Printing methods for complex surgery planning. He presented different cases where 3D Printing played an important role. For example, 3D-printed models give surgeons a haptic impression of a situation and can serve as a tool for pre-operative planning and communication among surgeons or towards the family of the patient. Surgeons get a better idea of what they are facing, which could shorten the time in the operating room. I especially liked how there is a lot of collaboration between RWTH and the university hospital, only 5 minutes from one another. They often work together on segmentation and design of the model, after which the university prints the model and passes it on to the hospital. Dr. Sonntag thought that having all equipment in the hospitals could shorten the process to having all in one day.

What I liked even more were the reactions from the audience! First, the general position was: “We don’t have the time for that.” That sparked a discussion among the participants, as there were some strong advocates of this technology in the audience. There was a spontaneous debate, after which everyone agreed that 3D images and models are not only great for teaching and marketing, but also for the understanding and pre-operative planning of complex interventions.

Philippe Chavanne from the Swiss Fachhochschule Nordwestschweiz presented on the design and production of patient-specific implants in a university setting. He touched on important aspects such as quality and risk management. They are only providing implants to people who have no other option. He also showed the implant production of his university.

After a great lunch where surgeons sat together with implant designers and professors with hospital management, Dr. Krings of the UMC Utrecht presented on 3D reconstructions for interventional pediatric cardiology: “More work or worth more?” This gave us a deeper insight into how doctors think about 3D imaging. He showed a lot of cases, first in 2D, and asked the plenum if we could see anything on them, and if so, what? Afterwards he showed a 3D image made by a 3D rotation angiograph. The results were stunning! Without 3D visualization, they wouldn’t have found a lot of problems and also the surgeons taking part at our event hadn’t seen the problems on the initial 2D image. He was strongly encouraging everyone to get a switch in mindset from 2D to 3D. He was using a picture of a tree in black and white and slowly added color to the image. With more and more color in the picture you could see a lot more detail. He said it is the same with 2D and 3D.

Later that day, Mr. Seitz of the Friedrich-Baur BioMed Center shared his opinion on and experience with 3D-printed models. Surgeons he worked with who had a tactile model of the patient’s anatomy and rehearse the operations, reported a big improvement. They claimed to be faster (due to a reduction of costs, reduction of anesthesia time) and able to focus on a lot of other things, like hiding scars, avoiding collateral damage. Furthermore, he gave some useful advice on what to focus on in preparing those models. For example, when working on the back of a skull, it doesn’t matter if the nose is at the right place!

In the end, Dr. Sonntag gave a presentation on his company enmodes GmbH, which is helping their customers develop medical devices with computer-aided simulations to reduce research and development time and costs compared to conventional approaches. They want to give a better understanding of the hemodynamic conditions of blood-carrying medical devices and detailed insight into the structural mechanics of implants.

After those very impressive and informative presentations, we ended the day with networking and one-to-one talks. Looking at the feedback we got from participants and speakers this is definitely an event worth repeating!

If you’re interested in attending a conference like this, definitely consider attending the Mimics Innovation Summit at the Materialise World Conference program in Brussels, April 23-24!