Dec 6, 2016 | By Tess

Nuclear medicine, an area of medicine which involves the application of radioactive substances to the body, can be a crucial part of diagnosing and determining the seriousness of a patient’s disease. Predictably, however, the use of radioactive equipment also comes with certain risks. Radiation can be harmful to the body, so a crucial part of nuclear medicine has been to control and reduce the amount of radioactive materials that are injected into the body, whether orally or intravenously. And that’s where 3D printing comes into play: A team of researchers from the University of Würzburg in Germany has demonstrated how 3D printed organ models could have an important role in testing dosage amounts of radioactive materials for clinical prototyping.

For those unfamiliar with nuclear medicine practices, they essentially consist of injecting small amounts of radioactive materials into the body, which are then captured through external detectors and which give doctors a clear indication on how abnormalities and diseases such as cancer, heart disease, neurological disorders, etc. are manifesting within the body. The new 3D printing research project, which was published as a study in the December issue of The Journal of Nuclear Medicine, outlines how low-cost 3D printed organ models can give better insight into how much radioactive material should be injected into a particular patient’s body. Johannes Tran-Gia, a PhD candidate and one of the study’s authors, said: “This research shows a way of producing inexpensive models of patient-specific organs/lesions for providing direct and patient-specific calibration constants. This is particularly important for imaging systems suffering from poor spatial resolution and ill-defined quantification, such as SPECT/CT.” (SPECT stands for Single Photon Emission Computed Tomography).

As part of the study, the researchers 3D printed a set of kidney models in order to demonstrate how their technique could be advantageous to medical professionals. Kidneys were chosen as the test organs because of their sensitivity to radionuclide therapies. As you can see in the photos, the 3D printed kidneys are rather rudimentary, but each of their sizes reflect the volumes of different ages. The smallest, which holds 8mL, represents a newborn baby’s kidney, and the largest, 123 mL, is the average adult size. According to the researchers, the sizes are based on kidney dimensions provided by Medical Internal Radiation Dose (MIRD) guidelines.

The phantom kidney models were 3D printed using an FDM 3D printer and were made from a waterproof and chemically stable plastic material. Importantly, the 3D printed phantom kidneys are refillable, so the researchers have been able to test various amounts of radioactive materials within them to see how much is needed for a SPECT or CT scan. As the research states, “Nuclide-dependent SPECT/CT calibration factors for technetium-99m (Tc-99m), lutetium-177 (Lu-177), and iodine-131 (I-131) were then determined to assess the accuracy of quantitative imaging for internal renal dosimetry...Although in our study the kidneys were modeled as a relatively simple one-compartment model, the study represents an important step towards a reliable determination of absorbed doses and, therefore, an individualized patient dosimetry of other critical organs in addition to kidneys.”

The research conducted by the team at the University of Würzburg demonstrates how 3D printing can be used within the field of nuclear medicine and how low-cost 3D printable models can be advantageous for clinical prototyping.



Posted in 3D Printing Application



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