Digital Healthcare, Augmented Reality, Mobile Apps and more! Andreas Jakl is a lecturer for Digital Healthcare & Smart Engineering @ St. Pölten University of Applied Sciences, Microsoft MVP for Windows Development and Amazon AWS Educate Cloud Ambassador.
Are there any other ways to 3D print segmented medical data coming from MRI / CT / Ultrasound by splitting it in two halves?
In the first part of this article, the result was that the support structures required by a standard 3D printer significantly reduce the details present on the surface of the printed body part.
Christoph Braun had the idea for another method to reduce the support structures to a minimum: by splitting the object in two halves, each has a flat surface area that can be used as the base for the 3D print.
Based on the 4-part tutorial where we segmented the brain from an MRI image, one of the most interesting application areas is printing such 3D models. In that sense, it makes no difference if the data is coming from an MRI (e.g., a brain or tumor), CT (e.g., the skull) or ultrasound. In this article, we’ll look at how to prepare the 3D model for 3D printing.
In this part, we print the MRI brain model using the Witbox 2 3D printer with plastic and deal with support structures. The aim is to make this process accessible for everyone – so you don’t need specialized and expensive software & hardware; we’ll instead use open source and free tools as much as possible.
In the previous blog posts, we’ve used a simple grayscale threshold to define the model surface for visualizing a MRI / CT / Ultrasound in 3D. In many cases, you need to have more control over the 3D model generation, e.g., to only visualize the brain, a tumor or a specific part of the scan.
So far, we’ve created a volume rendering of a MRI / CT / Ultrasound scan. This is based on Voxels. For 3D printing and highly performant visualization in AR / VR scenarios, we need to create and export a polygon-based model. For the first step, we will use the Grayscale Model Maker and export the 3D Model as .stl to further prepare the model.
To create a 3D model, we have two main options in 3D Slicer:
Grayscale Model Maker: directly uses grayscale values from the image data. A threshold defines the surfaces. The model maker also takes care of smoothing the surfaces and reducing the polygon count.
Model Maker: this requires labels or discrete data to build a 3D model, meaning you have to segment the image data.
After importing the MRI / CT / Ultrasound data into 3D Slicer in part 1, we’re ready for the first 3D visualization inside the medical software through 3D Volume Rendering. This is an important step to ultimately export the 3D model to Unity for visualization through Google ARCore or Microsoft HoloLens, or for 3D printing.
Some of the best showcases of Mixed Reality / VR / AR include 3D visualizations of MRI (magnetic resonance imaging), CT (computer tomography) or ultrasound scans. 3D brings tremendous advantages for analyzing the scanned images compared to only viewing 2D slices. Additionally, a good visualization brings value to patients who can gain a better understanding if they can easily explore their own body.