Apr. 7, 2015 | By Simon

When it comes to the list of examples of how additive manufacturing is revolutionizing the medical industry, it seems like every week we’re presented with an entirely-new breakthrough.  Between new 3D printing technologies that are making it easier and faster for medical professionals to receive models to new ways of 3D scanning a body part and using that model to study pre-surgery, it’s difficult to find any reason how 3D printing isn’t helping change the medical industry.  Recently, a patient adopted these methods used by medical professionals and took matters into his own hands when he was diagnosed with a potentially life-threatening condition.  

Steven Keating, a 26-year old doctoral student at Boston’s Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Media Lab had a brain scan done when he was 18 out of curiosity.  The scan revealed a slight abnormality but he was nothing to worry about, he was told.  After having some issues with his smelling abilities - “sniff seizures” - he went in to have an M.R.I done by surgeons at MIT..  What they found was devastating: a cancerous tumor the size of a tennis ball in his brain.    

Three weeks later, Keating underwent a 10-hour surgery at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston accompanied by his friends and family.  The surgery was performed by neurosurgeon E. Antonio Chiocca, and although Keating was sedated, he was kept awake while the tumor was removed to ensure that doctor’s weren’t damaging the language center in his brain.   

Throughout the diagnosis and shortly after, Keating worked as hard as he could to obtain all of his medical information - an estimated 70 gigabytes - in an effort to better understand his condition.  

As a member of MIT Media Lab’s Mediated Matter Group alongside 3D printing renegade Neri Oxman and mechanical engineer David Wallace, Keating’s own interest as a student in both mechanical engineering and synthetic biology naturally led him to look deeper into new ways of visualizing his condition and sharing it with others as open source data.

With the personal fascination with his condition combined with his experience and background in data management and additive manufacturing technologies, Keating has leveraged the data surrounding his condition and has created digital and 3D printed models of his tumor, brain and surgically-repaired skull as a way of sharing his experience with others and perhaps most importantly, inspiring a new generation of data-hungry individuals to pursue a similar course with their own medical conditions.   

“Because of that connection, I had new options,” said Keatin. “I asked for the surgery to videotaped, for my genome to be sequenced, and for the raw data from scans.”

Since his surgery, Keating has shared his experience - along with the 3D printed models - to groups of cancer researchers who - although they may study these conditions for a living - rarely have a firsthand account as detailed as Keating’s which can be described both visually and with the 3D printed examples.  

“Steven’s story is so inspiring in part because he is approaching his own cancer as a scientific problem, and he is actively seeking the data he needs to solve that problem,” said Tyler Jacks, director of the Koch Institute and the David H. Koch Professor in MIT’s Department of Biology.  “After hearing his story, I think all of us were motivated to get back into the lab.”

Although many would understandably prefer to keep their medical records private, Keating’s firm belief in making medical records open source stems from his actual experience of crowdsourcing opinions and gathering as much information as possible which may have only been accessible from one opinion - his doctor’s.  

By opening up his medical records, he is essentially inviting the world to not only help him better understand his condition, but also opening doors that previously didn’t exist for others with similar conditions to better-understand their diagnosis.  Although it is primarily limited to Keating’s own experience, one could only imagine what it would look like ten years from now if millions released their own medical information in the form of video, images and 3D data that could be used to better understand potentially life-altering situations.  

Because of Keating’s dedication to making health data open, he was invited to the White House for President Barack Obama’s unveiling of the Precision Medicine Initiative in January of this year.  Among other topics raised by the president in his presentation included accelerating design and testing of tailored cancer treatments - something that crowdsourcing information can infinitely improve upon due to the collective knowledge and experiences of many.  

Now, seven months after the surgery, Keating is tumor-free and is receiving chemotherapy to ensure that he stays that way.  Along the way, he has still been pushing for making it easier for medical information to be released and openly-shared.

“This is what the next generation, which lives on data, is going to want,” he added. 



Posted in 3D Printing Applications


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