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Dr. Schwenke uses Autodesk Fusion 360, Autodesk Netfabb, and Formlabs 3D printers to create models that help train surgeons, provide better treatment, and eliminate the need for animal testing during practice procedures.
It’s difficult for surgeons to practice the intricacies of any surgery, especially when it comes to the brain. Dr. Hannes Schwenke of the University Hospital Schleswig-Holstein in Lübeckcon, Germany is pioneering an entirely new way to understand brain aneurysms, train doctors, and provide better treatment by 3D printing artery models and a replica of the vascular system.
3D printing enables Dr. Schwenke to reproduce the individual anatomy of an aneurysm with high precision, enabling a deep understanding of the diseased vessel. Surgeons can visualize patient-specific aneurysms to begin operations with as much prior knowledge as possible, and patients can feel more at ease with a visual understanding of their upcoming surgery.
Dr. Schwenke’s 3D-printed replica of the entire human vascular anatomy focuses on the pathway that is typically followed with an angiogram for cerebral artery surgery. It helps surgeons, including himself, visualize and learn more about the intricacies of brain aneurysms.
“The aneurysm surgeries that we do are minimally invasive endovascular procedures through the inguinal arteries or the wrist arteries, all under fluoroscopy,” he explains. “We then access the brain through these approaches with catheters. The skull does not have to be opened.”
The operating surgeon uses a keyhole technique to travel the human body’s full arterial pathway, from the inguinal arteries all the way into the brain. With the 3D printed models, Dr. Schwenke and his team have been able to improve training, operations, and procedure outcomes dramatically.
Recreating the vascular system with 3D modeling and 3D printing
3D printing is gaining popularity and adoption in the medical industry. For example, 3D-printed prosthetics and orthopedic replacements are now commonplace. The medical research community is also quickly getting on board. According to Dr. Schwenke, 3D printing has become a “hot topic” in the neuroradiology community worldwide.
“The possibility to look at a one-to-one reflection of the human anatomy as a 3D-printed model that can be used for educational purposes is well received,” he says.
Dr. Schwenke and his team rely on Autodesk tools for their entire process. Typically, they isolate a relevant artery through a combination of CT scans and 3D rotational angiography (or 3DRA). After processing and prepping the data in Netfabb, the team can transfer the data over to Fusion 360. Once in Fusion 360, they can transfer the data to 3D print a physical, scale model of the artery.
Dr. Schwenke can easily print the models with a seamless workflow from Fusion 360 to his Formlabs 3D printers. He even gets notifications sent to his smartwatch to check on remaining print times.
Every new model becomes an opportunity for Dr. Schwenke to learn, run simulations, and visualize what’s usually hidden within our bodies. He’s excited about what’s on the horizon with 3D printing.
“We have new 3D printing materials and new resin grades,” he says. “The process is always evolving. We’re talking about manufacturing implants [next]. I think that’s where our journey can go.”