3D Prints of Your Brain Will Soon Be Available
We all know how important our brains are — they’re the central processing unit of our biological computer, and they control everything from our heartbeat to our memories. Have you ever wondered what your brain actually looks like though?
Even an MRI doesn’t show what your brain looks like. Before now, the only way to get a good look at that gray matter in your skull was to open up your skull — but no one is really keen on brain surgery. Soon, you’ll be able to get an MRI and receive a 3D print of your brain that you can take home with you!
Necessity and Invention
They say necessity is the mother of invention, and that’s the motto that led to the creation of 3D printed brain models. An MIT student named Steven Keating was diagnosed with a brain tumor. He was working on his doctorate at the college’s Media Lab’s Mediated Matter group, and after he received his diagnosis, he wanted to know more about what was happening in his head before he went in for brain surgery.
Working with other researchers at the Wyss Institute at Harvard, he was able to discover a way to create an accurate 3D printed model of his brain, so he could hold that tumor in his hand before the surgeons tried to remove it.
MRIs and CT Scans
It’s actually a wonder that no one has tried to generate this type of recreation before. MRIs and 3D printers work in much the same way. 3D printers build their creations starting from the bottom up, one layer at a time. MRIs render their images in a very similar way, one slice at a time. The similar rendering style makes MRIs and 3D printing highly compatible.
If you pair the MRI’s layer-by-layer scanning model with the CT’s high-resolution detailed scans, you have the perfect representation of this new method. It doesn’t take long either — an MRI takes an average of 45 to 60 minutes to scan any specific part of the body. CT scans don’t take long to complete, but the high-resolution data can take multiple hours, even if seasoned professionals are analyzing the data.
The Possibilities 3D Printing Offers
This isn’t the first time scientists have tried 3D printing brains, but most of the results were either less detailed than the model of Keating’s brain or they were made of actual brain tissue to allow scientists to study the effects of things like multiple sclerosis and schizophrenia on the brain.
3D printing is good for more than just seeing what your brain looks like or being able to carry around a model of your gray matter. It could also be used for neurology diagnostics and training new neurologists and neurosurgeons who aren’t ready to work on actual patients.
This solution could be a great tool to enable those same neurosurgeons to plan out tumor removal surgery before the patient is on the table. It can even potentially eliminate the need for explorative surgery to assess how or where a tumor is located or how it’s connected to the rest of the brain.
Of course, you could also just get a 3D model of your brain to use as a coffee table conversation piece — that’s entirely up to you.
The Future of Imaging
Keating is hoping that these printed brain models will start to become routine in the next five years or so. The goal is to enable someone to walk in for an MRI or other brain scan and have a custom 3D model complete within a few days.
For something that started out as a way for a tumor patient to learn more about what was going on inside their head, this advance could change the way we look at diagnostic imaging. A 3D printed brain model, while an awesome conversation piece, could turn into an essential tool for brain diagnostics.
If you ever wanted to see what the inside of your head looked like, it’s your lucky day. It might not be too long before you can get your own personal 3D printed brain model from your neurologist to take home.