Better Visualization with ASTEC Engineering

How Inova surgeons use 3D-printed models to improve patient care

3D printing

Innovation is at the heart of improving patient safety and outcomes. This passion for staying at the cutting edge of medical technology not only keeps Inova providers abreast of the latest and greatest, but also ensures patients receive the best care possible. One recent example of this comes from the Advanced Surgical Technology and Education Center (ASTEC) & Biomechanics/Engineering Lab on the Inova Fairfax Medical Center Campus.

Engineers and staff at the ASTEC lab are working with physicians to continually advance surgery training and improve patient safety by using 3D-printed models.

“Traditionally, doctors would take imaging from a CT scan, MRI or X-ray and they would plan for a surgery using those platforms,” says Larry Walker, Operations Manager at the ASTEC lab. “The 3D printing gives you a 3D model they can actually hold in their hand, whether that’s a targeted tumor, organ or injury to the knee or hip [for example].”

John Moynihan, MD, Chairman of the Department of Surgery at Inova, explains that having access to these 3D-printed models helps in three ways:

  • Training and educating young surgeons on complex procedures and difficult approaches by giving them a clearer picture of the patient’s anatomy
  • A “tool in the surgeon’s toolbox” that provides additional information and can help fine-tune the surgical approach
  • A tool to give patients a clearer understanding about the treatment they’re receiving

“Whatever the organ or structure that is being treated might be, the 3D model comes out very close to what the real body part looks like,” says Dr. Moynihan. “You can sit down with a patient and say, ‘Here is where the imaging shows your tumor,’ and then show them how that looks in the body and other structures that are near it. And not only is it easier to show the patient and their family that structure but it also makes it easier for us to be able to explain the approach we’re taking.”

As an additional tool, the 3D models have been very successful, says Dr. Moynihan, and interest in taking advantage of this service offered by the ASTEC lab is only increasing. Currently it is most commonly used in neurosurgical and orthopedic procedures; however, as more and more Inova surgeons report successes with the technology, it is being adopted in many different disciplines, from urology to kidney transplants to pediatric oncology.

One reason the technology is so flexible is due to the effort put into the program by Walker and his colleagues at the ASTEC lab. They work together with engineers from local universities and industry partners across the country to ensure Inova providers have access to the best equipment available.

“Currently the 3D modeling is a service financially supported by the involved clinical departments and the generosity of donors interested in the advancement of surgical care at no additional cost to the patient,” says Dr. Moynihan.

This is a truly unique service that Inova can offer, as there currently is not an “off-the-shelf” product for medical 3D printing; meaning this is all made possible because of the ingenuity of the ASTEC lab and their partners.

“Our vision at the ASTEC lab meets Inova’s general vision because we want to be innovative to improve patient outcomes,” says Walker. “We’re are always looking at how we can bring everyone together and make everything we do better.” 

Inova offers many surgical locations throughout Northern Virginia to serve patients from Northern Virginia, the Washington, DC metro area and beyond.

Leave a Comment