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Could 3D printed bones make your visit to the doctor shorter and help medical personnel to plan surgeries? Eero Anttila decided to have a try at modeling and printing his own bones. Even his surgeon found the experiment very interesting.
After I had broken my left metacarpal bone while windsurfing, my hand was CT scanned. I received the images on a CD so that my hand surgeon could view them and evaluate whether I needed surgery.
I managed to turn the CT images into a 3D model, and then I printed my metacarpal bones with the 3D printer at our office. I wanted to find out what the surgeon thought of the experiment, so I took the printout with me. He was particularly interested in hearing which modeling software I had used and how long the printing had taken.
The surgeon immediately started to comment on the fracture based on the printout. He could see straight away that the metacarpal bone of the ring finger was shorter than it was supposed to be and that its head was not aligned with the other metacarpal bones. He also quickly determined that the bone protrusion near the wrist was prone to break because of its length.
All in all, the 3D model made the visit to the doctor considerably shorter. It was much quicker to take a look at the printout that I had produced from my pocket than to start examining the CT images. Doctors do not usually have the time or authorization to install a handy modeling software while seeing a patient, so they have to make do with the slice images (see Image 2).
3D prints could also be useful when planning surgeries. For example, jaw surgeons already create 3D prints of jawbones to facilitate making spare parts. In addition, it may be easier to evaluate the need for surgery when the decision is based on a tangible model of the body part in question rather than on diffuse slice images.
Patients might even be willing to pay extra for a memento of themselves.
Five steps to printing a part of your hand
1. Find the folder called DICOM on the CD that you received after the CT scan.
2. Install the free OsiriX software that turns the slice images into a 3D model.
3. Save the 3D model as an STL file, which is compatible with the 3D printing software.
4. Find the optimum position for printing, remove any debris and make a test run by printing a miniature version of the model.
5. Print the model in actual size with good quality and wait for ten hours. The end result shows that the printer has actually made the bones hollow just like they should be.
P.S. Our virtual reality team took my 3D printing experiment even further. We have a VR test room where you can actually walk around the model.