March 2019: 3D Printing Fiber Tracts in Brain

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A fiber tract is a collection of nerves in the brain that transmits information. Diffusion Tractography Imaging (DTI) is a Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) method that can be used to image these fiber tracts and their relationship to each other, to  other brain structures and to pathologies like tumors. These imaged fiber tracts can be visually represented to help explain patient symptoms, and to plan for surgeries that minimize damage to critical areas of the brain.

Figure 1. 3D printed model of multiple fiber tracts in specific patient’s brain

The Stanford 3DQ Lab has optimized the process to convert images of fiber tracts on a computer screen into physical models. The 3D printed model shown in Figure 1 was created by 3DQ Lab technologists using this process. In it, colors represent different fiber tract groups that are associated with various functions.  For example: blue-colored fiber tracts are involved in movement, red-colored fiber tracts involve the senses, and white-colored fiber tracts involve vision.

The technical challenges of converting MRI brain scans into 3D printed models are significant, but Stanford 3DQ Lab has been working diligently to acquire skills and resources to overcome these. Stanford Hospital & Clinics is able to provide high quality DTI scans that Stanford 3DQ Lab can convert into these models. To achieve these results is truly a team effort.

Shannon Walters, MS, RT(MR)
Executive Manager, 3D and Quantitative Imaging Laboratory