logoThe 3D printing community is based on sharing of knowledge, and the innovation and inspiration offered through 3D printing technology has the potential to make a deep and continual impact in the area of education. While 3D printing is sweeping the medical industry with a variety of materials, devices, and ways to assist in procedures, one element that is often taken for granted and perhaps glossed over is how important it is to be able to use 3D printed models to show not only doctors what is going on inside a patient’s body, but also to show the patients themselves.

It can be terrifying to have an internal illness or disease, and have little or no concept for visualizing it or really understanding it outside of the doctor’s visit and google. While there is an emphasis on communication and information in this high-tech era, just ask any teacher — nothing works better for educating than accentuating with visual aids. And 3D printing can provide this service above and beyond what we’ve experienced previously, giving a tangible explanation of what’s going on in the body upon translation from MRIs, CT scans, and relevant digital files.

Radboud University Medical Center is on board with not only healing, but informing. Based in the Netherlands, this medical institution is known as a leading academic facility. They see the future of medicine including the ‘self-empowered’ patient — as well as family, because we all know from experience that when a loved one is ill, everyone can be affected on so many levels, from grief, to the trials and tribulations of illness, right down to what can be most important: understanding what is happening.

In line with their goals for empowering patients and families, Radboudumc has launched a program called REshape Center for Innovation, which is meant to uphold their plans and ideals for promoting the empowered patient of the future. They set up conferences and work to provide an ongoing forum for this regarding an enormous platform for the exchange of information and ultimately, support.

With word spreading about the use of 3D printed models in medicine, the team at REshape began considering the use of 3D printing models of patient tumors so that they could visualize what was going on inside their bodies. Going on the educated hunch that this might be a good coping mechanism, they wanted to be sensitive to needs and ideas from patients, so they reached out and talked to those affected. The response was very positive.

The REshape team spoke with a cancer survivor who had been free of kidney cancer for seven years, and generously allowed a 3D print to be made from his files. REshape, working with a 3D printing team who enthusiastically supported their cause, was able to provide the information to make some fantastic 3D prints demonstrating the tumors in bright red. The models were produced on an Ultimaker 3D printer.

3d printed kidney tumors

3d printed kidney tumors

The REshape team is turning this into a full-fledged project, using models to educate patients on cardiovascular issues. They are also speaking with other current patients regarding having 3D printed models made from their MRIs, and offering this service to those who wish to participate, as well as passing the models on for further consultations. Response to the program was very affirmative, as was that of the families once they saw the enthusiasm on the part of patients who wanted to use the visual aids for a chance at having the glimpse ‘inside.’

The team at REshape is also documenting the experimental program and its progress with an article regarding the process in a peer-reviewed journal. Have you experienced health issues where it would have helped to look at a model similar to the 3D printed ones in this article? Tell us your thoughts in the REshape Center’s 3D Printed Models forum over at 3DPB.com.

3D printed model used for educating patients regarding cardiovascular issues.

3D printed model used for educating patients regarding cardiovascular issues.

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