Three-dimensional printing in medicine involves the transformation of a digital image like a CT scan into a 3D model. Those 3D models are replicas of a patient’s actual anatomy that doctors can use to plan surgeries or as a guide during the actual procedure.
UPMC launched its 3D printing program in 2016 and continues to expand its applications across various medical specialties. The 3D printed anatomical models we create can help improve patients’ outcomes as well as reduce the overall cost of care.
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The process of 3D printing at UPMC begins with a surgeon seeing a patient, scheduling surgery, and getting a digital image for surgery planning purposes. Those digital images are usually from CT scans, but can also include MRI scans or ultrasound scans.
Surgeons can request a 3D-printed model based off of the scan if they believe it can help them perform the procedure more effectively.
UPMC staff members create a virtual 3D image of the requested area, and then a specialized printer can create the physical model.
The printing process can take anywhere from 30 minutes to several hours, depending on the size and complexity of the anatomy.
There are two major uses for 3D printing at UPMC:
While the above applications account for the majority of 3D printing’s use in medicine, there are other potential uses, including:
The surgical specialties that use 3D models the most include:
The goal of 3D printing is to improve patient outcomes. Because 3D printing creates a physical model of a specific patient’s anatomy, the process can prove beneficial to the surgeon performing a procedure.
If a patient has a tumor on an organ, the 3D model will show the tumor’s size and location, as well as the location of other important anatomical parts, like arteries. The surgeon can see the model before and during the procedure to know where to cut.
Cutting or drill guides also can help surgeons when performing a procedure, showing them where to use their instruments.
Currently, the health system pays for the cost of 3D printing, and there is no added cost for patients.
Talk to your doctor to find out if a 3D model is appropriate for your care.
Doctors at UPMC Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh used 3D printing while treating a girl who had tumors on both of her kidneys.