3D Anatomic Modeling Laboratories Overview

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.

How it works

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

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.

A team-based approach

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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