3D-Printed Model Helps Intermountain Doctors Remove a Complicated Brain Tumor

“It was the very last thing I expected to hear,” said Cheryl Ledward, after she learned that she had a brain tumor last July.

Ledward’s tumor, which was located behind her left eye and sandwiched between nerves and blood vessels, was in a precarious position.

It took a collaboration of doctors at Intermountain Medical Center working with specialists at Intermountain Healthcare’s Transformation Center to work quickly on a solution to the unique tumor.

Thanks to a 3D-printed model, doctors were able to study Leward’s tumor in intricate detail to determine how to best remove it without damaging adjacent areas. Her scheduled surgery was much shorter, as Intermountain neurosurgeon Paul House, MD, operated around those delicate areas and successfully removed the walnut-sized tumor.

Discovering a Tumor

Just three months before she was diagnosed, Ledward began experiencing headaches and visual disturbances. Since it was summer, Ledward attributed the headaches to being dehydrated, and thought she just needed to drink more water.

After preliminary testing raised concerns about a vascular blockage, her Intermountain Healthcare primary care physician, William Daines, MD, discovered the tumor on an MRI. The tumor was a large meningioma, located behind her left eye and attached between her optic nerve, carotid artery, and other blood vessels.

While waiting for the surgery, Ledward’s mind began to race. “You think this thing is growing in your head by the minute and you begin to think about the end of life,” she said.

Preparing for Surgery with a Personalized 3D Model

To give her peace of mind, a friend referred her to Rami Shorti, PhD, a biomechanical engineer at Intermountain Healthcare’s Transformation Center in Murray, who has provided patient-specific 3D prints for complicated clinical cases for pre-surgical planning in pediatric cardiology, orthopedic thoracic trauma, urological and podiatric surgeries.

“What patient-specific anatomic 3D models provide is haptic feedback through hands-on interaction, essentially engaging more senses including touch,” said Dr. Shorti.

“Surgery is hands-on and 3D printing helps fill the gap between 2D images on the screen and physical patient anatomy to be operated on. It allows surgeons to hold in their hands, touch, feel, and visualize all aspects of the anatomy that is unique to that patient. It’s the closest thing to interacting with the real anatomy without cutting a patient open,” he added.

Using software to convert MRI and CT scan images, Dr. Shorti isolated Ledward’s tumor and built a 3D model using different colored plastics to distinguish the different anatomy.

“Using the model, it helped me think about different approaches and anticipate what I was going to find,” says Dr. House. “It allowed me to take a less invasive approach than originally planned.”

Seeing the model also calmed Ledward’s fears. She now knew visually what she was facing.

Innovative Technology Leads to a Successful Outcome

Once the tumor was removed, Ledward also surprised doctors with a quick recovery. She spent only two days recovering at Intermountain Medical Center. After a six-week recovery at home, she was back at work with no long-term effects or even any visible scars.

No one is more surprised than Ledward, who says she’s very grateful for her doctors and the technology that saved her life — which means she can spend much more time with her family, including her grandchildren.

Although 3D modeling isn’t new, Dr. House says it continues to evolve. “It’s becoming much more sophisticated, faster, and useful with the different colors and textures of the plastics,” he said.

The Intermountain Healthcare Transformation Center is always on the lookout for emerging technologies that have healthcare transformative potential. “3D printing for pre-surgical visualization is a great example of leveraging technology to helping us advance our healthcare capabilities, and we believe that this is just the beginning of many applications including pre-surgical simulation.” said Dr. Shorti.