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3D Print Your Own Brains!

Engadget recently reported on a slightly creepy, yet informative, way – using 3D printing – to discover things about your brain and neurology.

When MIT graduate Steven Keating wished to see data of his brain from MRI and CT scans “following surgery to remove a baseball-sized tumor,” he discovered that even if he were to 3D print life-sized models of his brain, it would be “a slow, cumbersome process, which wouldn’t reveal any important areas of interest.”

As a result, Keating teamed up with some researchers at Harvard’s Wyss Institute.  The researchers then developed “a fast and easy way to print palm-sized models of individual human brains, in a bid to advance scientific endeavors.”

“MRI and CT scans produce images with so much detail that objects of interest need to be isolated from surrounding tissue and converted into surface meshes in order to be printed…  But since medical imaging data often contains irregularly-shaped objects and lacks clear borders, features of interest are usually over- or under-exaggerated, and details are washed out.”

But now, thanks to Keating and his team, you can 3D print models of brains using “dithered bitmaps, a digital file format where each pixel of a grayscale image is converted into a series of black and white pixels, and the density of the black pixels is what defines the different shades of gray, rather than the pixels themselves varying in color.”  This way, the data you are attempting to investigate becomes clearer.

As a result, a 3D model of Keating’s brain was successfully 3D printed and it “preserved all the detail shown in the MRI data, down to a resolution on par with what the human eye can see from about nine inches’ distance.  The team has applied the same approach to other parts of the body too.”

James Weaver, one of the other architects of the project, concludes: “Our approach not only allows for high levels of detail to be preserved and printed into medical models, but it also saves a tremendous amount of time and money.”

“Manually segmenting a CT scan of a healthy human foot, with all its internal bone structure, bone marrow, tendons, muscles, soft tissue, and skin, for example, can take more than 30 hours, even by a trained professional. We were able to do it in less than an hour.”

“I imagine that sometime within the next five years, the day could come when any patient who goes into a doctor’s office for a routine or non-routine CT or MRI scan will be able to get a 3D-printed model of their patient-specific data within a few days.”

Image and Quotes Courtesy of Engadget

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