3D printing project for planning a secondary surgical implant

This is one project I've done which has had the greatest impact on someone's life. I am proud to say that, because of our work, a 16-year old boy could lead a normal life again.

Dr Tarjani Dave, consultant for Oculoplasty at L V Prasad Eye Institute where I worked, came to me in mid-2015 with a seemingly simple problem. She wanted me to extract a portion of a patient's skull for 3D printing. She said she needed the section around the eye (called the 'orbit' - an obvious request coming from an eye surgeon!). I had been doing a lot of 3D printing recently and I was eager to learn more. 

The CT scan files were in the DICOM format. I knew that this must be a very general problem in the field of medicine and 3D printing had been done in this field already. After a bit of googling, I found 3D Slicer to be a good candidate (it's free and open source!) and started learning how to do it. I watched this instructional video and I was good to go.

On the top right we see the boy's extracted skull. You can see the dark spherical shape in the left (the boy's right) eye socket (called the orbit). Well that is the boy's migrated orbital implant. Here's how the boy's face looked - he had lost his eyeball long ago in an accident and was wearing a prosthetic eye. But because the implant inside his skull had moved around (which happens due to fibrosis), the prosthetic eye couldn't sit properly and was looking very odd (bottom right). You can see more clearly in the adjoining CT scan image, the "ball" has shifted downwards.

I extracted the orbit using Slicer (you can see the interactive 3d file above) and sent it to our partners for printing in an industrial-grade 3D printer - which retains the dimensions and gives a very accurate print of small, delicate parts as you can see in this bony structure.

Our (the engineers') part was done at this stage. We handed the finished part to her, she used it to mould the precisely shaped secondary implant which would be needed to 'push' the original one back into place. The transparent globular part in the center of the LEFT image is the mould master.

I am pleased to say the operation was a success and the CT scan and patient's face are on the RIGHT.

I was extremely pleased that such a simple project which was mostly an exercise in basic technology management could do so much for the life of one person. Most doctors don't have the time to learn new softwares or even find them (especially the free ones!) so they need to team up with engineers to solve problems which may even have straightforward solutions and make big impact.