How 3D Printing Brain Lesions Helps Patients Understand Their Illness

Being able to hold a tumor in your hand can make a difference, and work at UT Southwestern is allowing patients and physicians to be able to better understand brain lesions through 3D printing, leading to better treatment and compliance.

Dr. Darin Okuda is the Director of Neuroinnovation at UT Southwestern, and is changing the way brain lesions caused by multiple sclerosis are identified through 3D imaging, proving more clarity than vague and inaccurate MRI scans. MS causes the immune system to mis-recognize brain tissue as being foreign causing inflammation and the death of brain cells, and Okuda uses 3D printers to replicate brain lesions that result from multiple sclerosis.

A multiple sclerosis lesion in 3D with the tissue surrounding the lesions to the right. (Courtesy of: UT Southwestern).

Okuda says two dimensional images of a three dimensional object don’t capture the complexity of the lesion, and the printing allows shape and texture to inform on the injury and age of the lesion, identifying patterns and revealing future disease development. It can also help patients better understand their disease and cause them to follow treatment more closely.

“It provides an immediate connection with what is going on,” Okuda says. “MRIs give an appearance that they don’t completely understand. When they can see the size and complexity it keeps people more compliant.”

Okuda also uses three dimensional augmented reality where patients can hold and manipulate their lesions as well as mapping the area around the lesion, enabling researchers to study the extent of injury around the lesion. “I commonly hear, ‘For the first time, now I understand what is going on inside my brain,'” he says.

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