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On Make Magazine: Man Saves Wife’s Sight by 3D Printing Her Tumor

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The summer of 2013 found Michael Balzer in good health. A few years earlier, he’d struggled with a long illness that had cost him his job. As he recovered, he built an independent career creating 3D graphics and helping his wife, a psychotherapist named Pamela Shavaun Scott, develop treatments for video game addiction. Balzer’s passion is technology, not medicine, but themes of malady and recovery have often surfaced during his digital pursuits. But Balzer didn’t feel the full impact of that connection until that summer, shortly after he launched his own business in 3D design, scanning, and printing. In August 2013, just as the new venture was getting off the ground, Scott started getting headaches.

It might have been nothing, but Scott had gotten her thyroid removed a few months earlier, so the pair had been keeping an especially close eye on anything that might have indicated a complication. Balzer pestered his wife to get an MRI, and when she finally agreed, the scan revealed a mass inside her skull, a three-centimeter tumor lodged behind her left eye. They were understandably terrified, but neurologists who read the radiology report seemed unconcerned, explaining that such masses were common among women, and suggested Scott have it checked again in a year.

Balzer wanted a tangible model of Scott’s cranium so that he could get perspective on the location and size of the tumor and think about what kind of treatment to pursue. The standard removal process for a tumor like Scott’s, known as a meningioma, is a craniotomy, in which the skull is sawed open. Her tumor was located under her brain, so to remove it, doctors would have to physically lift her brain out of the way. This is as risky as it sounds. Nerves can be dislodged, and patients can lose their sense of smell, taste, or even sight. Thinking about her thyroid surgery, she and Balzer wondered if a similarly noninvasive procedure might be possible.

 

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Want to print your medical image? Ask your doctor for your DICOM files and download 3D Slicer (slicer.org). Then use the Region Growing tool to segment the image. Extract a 3D mesh of the surface, save as an STL, and use ParaView (paraview.org) to simplify it to a manageable number of triangles. To see more details, check out Make: volume 42, page 83, or visit makezine.com/ projects/3d-print-your-medical-scan.

Read the complete article on Make Magazine.

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