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3M BIC reconstructs colleague’s MRI data into a 3D skull

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Our in-house design team has also created a 3D skull using data from a colleague’s MRI scan.

The process, usually used for macular facial reconstruction, demonstrates how 3D printing has advanced and how powerful 3D design can be in the medical industry. In this the design team focused on reconstructing a damaged skull.

Using a free software, they converted the raw data from the MRI to a 3D printable file, choosing to focus on the bone density of the skull, rather than muscle, skin or vascular.

The team designed implants to iron out any inaccurate surfaces on the skull that had appeared on the 3D files, using another software similar to that used to create 3D implants for real fractured skulls.

Two life sized versions of the skulls were then 3D printed. One was created in Selective Laser Sintering (SLS) powder print using an industrial 3D printer, housed on the 3M BIC’s Innovation Avenue. The other a Fused Deposition Modelling (FDM) printed from the latest generation of MakerBot printers using PLA (polylactic acid).  The SLS version of the skull has the greater detail, however, the FDM print, which took over 50 hours to complete, highlights the advancement and future possibilities of FDM printers.

Dr Michael Wilson said: “Our Skull project is not only a great showcase for 3D printing, but also underlines how 3D design can be incorporated into the medical industry. If doctors can view MRI scan data more freely in 3D it would give them a greater understanding of a patient’s condition and refine the process of reconstructive surgery.”

“If someone fractures their skull, for example, then an MRI scan can be used and translated into 3D. A copy of the undamaged side of the skull can be printed in titanium and then attached to repair the damage caused in the patient’s skull.”

Manipulating MRI or CT scan data in 3D will transform the medical sector, allowing surgical professionals to have a greater understanding of patients’ injuries and develop healing solutions that are bespoke to each individual injury and person.

The team is currently looking at other MRI scan data, including the shoulder and wrist of a retired rugby league player.

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