Emerging Tech

Custom 3D-printed heads let doctors practice delicate brain procedures

personalized pseudopatient 3dprinting versahd

Radiotherapy can be a game-changer for treating brain cancer, with high doses of precisely targeted radiation used to kill off dangerous cancer cells, while avoiding damage to surrounding areas. The key word, however, is “precise,” since missing a target even by a few millimeters could damage healthy brain tissue with major health implications that threaten everything from disrupted speech to paralysis.

The radiotherapists who perform these procedures therefore have to be incredibly skilled and highly trained. But that doesn’t mean that they couldn’t benefit from being able to practice eliminating brain tumors in patients before going ahead and carrying out an operation.

With that in mind, radiotherapists now have the option of practicing specific treatments on a life-sized replica of a patient’s head and brain — all thanks to 3D printing. Developed by the company RTsafe, the so-called Personalized PseudoPatient makes it possible to take a CT scan of a patient’s brain, tumor, and head, and then transform this sequential CT data into a 3D model which can be printed. Each model contains inserts that allow it to detect the doses of radiation being delivered in different areas.

“As radiation therapy becomes even more customizable to each individual patient, the complexities of the supporting treatment planning system and the dose delivery system increase,” RTSafe notes on its website.

The technology gives radiologists the opportunity to not just have a trial run treating a tumor in the closest possible thing to the patient that they will be operating on, but also to make any changes that they need to make prior to carrying out that procedure. By conducting a simulation of the procedure ahead of time, they can be more confident that the radiotherapy will target only the intended tumor and not interact with any nearby structures like the optical nerve or brainstem.

The Personalized PseudoPatient models have been approved safe by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and are currently being used for patient treatment in Greece, where RTsafe is based.

This isn’t the only technology we’ve covered at Digital Trends allowing doctors and other medical practitioners to practice procedures ahead of time. Virtual reality tools can also be used by everyone from med students to highly qualified surgeons to practice difficult operations. Thanks to tools such as these, tomorrow’s doctors will be even more efficient than today’s, which is ultimately good news for everyone.

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