Apr 19, 2017 | By David

3D printing technology has been advancing medical treatment and research worldwide for years now, and the potential that it offers for the easy sharing and distribution of information across a global network has been a key factor in this process. The latest breakthrough to take advantage of this, achieved by a group of researchers from the Medical University of South Carolina and the University of Massachusetts, is a 3D printed model of an intracranial artery. This model can be used to help standardize high-resolution MRI scanning worldwide.

High-resolution MRI scanning, also known as vessel-wall MRI scanning, is used to study plaque components in blood vessels in the brain. For the last 10 years, researchers have been trying to shed light on some of the root causes of intracranial atherosclerotic disease (ICAD) with the help of this procedure, as well as reducing patients’ risk of getting the disease and providing information for clinical trials of new therapies. ICAD is the most common cause of strokes globally, so anything new that could be learnt about its underlying pathology has the potential to save many lives.

An obstacle that has been preventing ICAD research from making further progress is the lack of standardization in vessel-wall MRI protocols. New clinical trials and other experiments have been limited to a single location, as the variations in MRI methods and protocols at different institutions means that multi-center collaborative research is difficult or impossible to organize. The 3D printed intracranial vessel model that was recently produced will now be used to help with standardization, so research teams all over the world will be able to share their resources more easily.


Tanya N. Turan, M.D., director of the MUSC Stroke Division, published an article in the Journal of NeuroInterventional Surgery entitled "Development of a high resolution MRI intracranial atherosclerosis imaging phantom." The article describes the work her team carried out in collaboration with bioengineers from the University of Massachusetts. They took 3D imaging data from a single patient with ICAD at the MUSC, and used this to 3D print a "phantom" of a stenotic intracranial artery. The model they created is highly accurate, mimicking both the stenotic vessel and its plaque components, including the fibrous cap and the lipid core.

The feasibility of using this phantom for global standardization was demonstrated in Turan’s article, based on data obtained from 8 different high-resolution MRI scanning institutions. Six of these sites were in the U.S., while two were located in China. Sharing the data with China is crucial as the burden of intracranial stenosis is particularly high there. Turan is collaborating with Weihai Xu, M.D., of Peking Union Medical College, which is the lead Chinese site, to gather additional data relating to the assessment of interrater reliability among participating institutions. This is the other key factor that will affect the possibility of global collaborative research.

While the production and sharing of this 3D printed phantom represents a huge step towards the standardization of high-resolution MRI ICAD protocols, some work still needs to be done, and it could be another few years until the process is complete. Different MRI machines function differently, and set parameters still need to be established. So far, MRI parameters have been established for machines made by Siemens and GE, but work is still under way on finding standard parameters for Philips’ range of MRI scanners.

When high-resolution MRI protocols are finally standardized, and a sufficiently high level of interrater reliability has been demonstrated, the international research team intends to carry out an observational trial. This will examine risk prediction at participating centers, and will reach the required number of enrolled patients more quickly as it will be a global collaboration. According to Turan, "we're only going to be able to advance the field more quickly if we work together." 



Posted in 3D Printing Application



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