Medical 3-D printing: Q&A with Dr. Jonathan Morris, Mayo Clinic radiologist

Medical 3-D printing: Q&A with Dr. Jonathan Morris, Mayo Clinic radiologist

by John W. Mitchell, Senior Correspondent | November 03, 2017
3D Printing
From the November 2017 issue of HealthCare Business News magazine

With 3-D printing, they can train their fellows, their residents and medical trainees on how to do actual procedures without directly involving the patient. We have so many residents and fellows and we have to educate a large number of people, so the models are part of that.

HCB News: How did Mayo Clinic’s journey into 3-D printing begin?
JM: We had a set of conjoined twins that came to Mayo 11 years ago. The surgeons asked us if we could make a 3-D model of their liver because their anatomy was complex and they had to choose where to cut on the liver. That choice is traditionally made through CT and MR scans, which are two-dimensional imaging, but sometimes it’s difficult conceptually to make that 3-D object life-size in your mind.


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When we show imaging studies the object is as big as the screen is. If the screen is an iPhone, it’s the size of an iPhone. If the screen is 40 feet at a big national conference, the size of the image is 40 feet. It’s difficult to provide realistic size in your mind from two-dimensional objects.

We said we could probably make a 3-D-printed liver, but we didn’t have a 3-D printer at the time. So, we used one at the local community college. Dr. Matsumoto was heavily involved with the conjoined twins imaging. The surgeons would say, ‘we needed a way to get what’s in her mind out into the world,’ because she understood the anatomy in a way no one else did. 3-D printing was the way.
A patient holding a 3-D model of a rib cage with a tumor

We’ve done about 500 or maybe 600 models this year for preoperative and surgical planning. From spines, we went into oncology with tumor resection. One of the neurosurgeons will have a big tumor in the spine with blood vessels around it, so we make a model that has blood vessels and the tumor. Then, they can plan the surgery or evaluate different approaches they hadn’t considered before they had models. Once we started doing tumors, we never looked back.

After the local community college, we started using 3-D printers from the Department of Engineering at Mayo. Mayo has 60 engineers embedded in the hospital system. They had some 3-D printers and we used theirs early on with the spine. Then it became so useful for the surgeons that we started developing in-hospital printing capabilities, which was very novel. There was only one other place, Walter Reed National Military Medical Center, that was doing anything even remotely close.

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