3D Anatomic Modeling Laboratories Overview

Innovations in 3D printing and patient care

People undergoing new, uncommon or complex surgeries at Mayo Clinic may benefit from access to the clinic's expertise in 3D anatomic models. This technology helps with surgical planning, patient education and medical education.

The 3D anatomic modeling laboratories of the Department of Radiology use 3D printing to help doctors tailor the treatment of adults and children based on their exact anatomy. Studies in peer-reviewed medical journals show that the use of 3D-printed models improves surgical outcomes.

Anatomic modeling laboratories are available at the clinic's campuses in Arizona, Florida and Minnesota. Mayo Clinic is a leader in the movement to bring this technology into hospitals for the benefit of all people.

3D printing of patient's anatomy aids in surgical planning

How it works

3D Printing for Cancer Treatment

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Accurate 3D anatomic models are based on people’s imaging results, such as CT or MRI scans. Before printing a 3D model, radiologists process the scans with sophisticated software to first create a virtual model color coded for each tissue type. Then one or more printer technologies are used to print, layer by layer, a life-size 3D model of the patients' anatomy.

The printer's jetting technology uses UV light to harden thin layers of liquid resin as it builds the structure one layer at a time. Most models are printed in plastic. Sometimes they're made of flexible materials so that surgeons can practice a surgical technique on a more lifelike model.

Applying technology to personalize treatment

Head and neck 3D printing for reconstruction

Jonathan M. Morris, M.D.:

There's really no hospital system that has built as much infrastructure around 3D printing as Mayo has. We've done a lot of studies in the field of head and neck cancer and 3D printing and how they're complementary. Some of those complementary studies just show better understanding of the patient's specific anatomy before entering the operating room. With patient-specific virtual surgical planning and cutting guides, you can save up to 2 hours in the operating room, which means less time for a patient under anesthesia. And we get a better outcome because of all the design ahead of time. We've developed a specialty called point-of-care manufacturing.

All the manufacturing as the physicians inside the hospital, so there's no translation needed. We go from CT scan to three-dimensional model of complex cancer in every area of the body, but particularly in head and neck, quite seamlessly. We're combining surgery, biomedical engineering and radiology all in one place to create not just the 3D printed models, but also the virtual surgical planning.

We take the imaging with the patient's anatomy and tumor and vascularity, and then we print those out in a life-size three-dimensional way and give them to the surgeon as kind of a roadmap.

Daniel L. Price, M.D.:

We're all used to looking at two-dimensional images of patients and CT scans and MRIs. And 3D modeling takes that 2D image and turns it into something that you can hold in your hands and really understand what's the patient's anatomy. Having guides that are custom fit to their jaw, to their bone that we're taking from another part of their body to reconstruct them so that we can get perfect bone-to-bone contact and make them look as much like they did prior to ever having a cancer diagnosis.

But you really have to get it perfect the first time.

We have the opportunity to practice, plan and make it perfect on a computer before we ever get to the operating room. We found that patients had less complications long term when we use 3D modeling. They were less likely to have a plate break, and they were less likely to have that bone fracture or nonunion when we use 3D modeling.

Dr. Morris:

Another advantage is patient consent. When you let the patient hold their own skull or their own mandible or their own tumor in their hands, then you can start using the model as a communication vehicle. Mayo Clinic is an integrated multidisciplinary team. So instead of just surgeon and neuroradiologists meeting to discuss cases, now we have surgeon, neuroradiologist, biomedical engineers, and 3D printing capabilities all in the same care team.

Dr. Price:

We excel at complex patient care. And I think that's where our efficiency and the expertise of all of our colleagues to take care of those complex patients really comes into play.

At Mayo Clinic, radiologists and surgeons are teaming up to discover every possible detail about complex cases, before the operation. Use of virtual modeling and 3D-printed models can mean that patients experience less pain, shorter hospital stays and quicker recoveries.

3D printing can be a valuable tool for surgeons, who may use a 3D anatomic model specific to a patient to explain, plan or even practice surgery. During the digital preparation stage before printing, doctors may use the images for virtual surgical planning. After printing, being able to hold the anatomic model before beginning surgery may help in understanding anatomic anomalies or additional information that may change the surgical approach.

Isaac Garcia's story: Bone cancer care at Mayo Clinic

A team-based approach

A team uses a 3D-printed model to prepare for a surgical procedure Innovating with 3D anatomic models

Surgeons use the point-of-care manufacturing capabilities of the Mayo Clinic 3D anatomic modeling laboratories to conduct surgical rehearsals next to the operating room.

At Mayo Clinic nearly every medical and surgical specialty has accessed and benefited from the services of the anatomic modeling laboratories and the 3D models they produce. These specialties include pediatric otorhinolaryngology (ear, nose and throat), orthopedic surgery, oncologic surgery and cardiovascular surgery. Surgeries for which 3D-printed anatomic models are proved to be helpful include head and neck surgery, complex facial or airway reconstruction, heart surgery, lung surgery, joint reconstruction, and tumor removal.

These 3D models also play an important role in education and are used by Mayo Clinic's medical students, residents, fellows and experienced surgeons learning new or uncommon procedures.

Innovating with 3D modeling

The anatomic modeling laboratories:

  • Have produced more than 6,000 models
  • Produced Mayo Clinic's first model in 2006 to help the surgical team plan a complex surgery to separate conjoined twins
  • Created models that have become the standard of care for multiple uses, including jawbones that have guided over 100 jawbone removals (mandiblectomies) and 300 hearts

Mayo Clinic physicians, scientists and engineers continually advance the study and practice of 3D modeling in surgery.

Research and innovation

Mayo Clinic experts in 3D anatomic modeling conduct research to develop new solutions that improve treatment. See a list of publications about 3D anatomic modeling by Mayo Clinic researchers on PubMed, a service of the National Library of Medicine.

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Sept. 13, 2023