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3-D Technology Poised To Make Medicine More Personalized

Patrick Skahill
Clifford Yang holds the 3-D printed model used to train medical professionals. Yang spoke about the future of the technology from his office in Farmington, Conn.

Medical students are turning from the two-dimensional pages of their textbooks to the three-dimensional world of hand-held models. That’s because 3-D printing is changing the way doctors learn complex procedures, a development which could make medicine more personalized.

Clifford Yang held in his hands a small clear model inside his office in Farmington. It’s hollow and delicate. A life-sized replica of some blood vessels, modeled after images from an actual patient.

Yang, an associate professor and cardiovascular radiologist at UConn, said 3-D printing is poised to change how doctors prep for surgery.

“We’re trying to take patients that have actual specific diseases - like aneurysms or tumors in the brain,” Yang said. “If we take their images, print a model for the surgeon, before they have their operation. Then the surgeon has a practice pattern to work with before they’re actually in the operating theater.”

Charan Singh, a doctor at UConn, said the model Yang held is used to teach students how to insert catheters into arteries for things like stroke treatment.

“It’s better that the students learn this on an outside model than on an actual patient,” he said.

Credit Patrick Skahill / WNPR
The model is used to train physicians who need to do work inside blood vessels.

“That was our idea,” Yang said. “That with this model - it would shorten the learning curve.”

Yang said as the cost for 3-D printing goes down, he expects more and more doctors to use the tool as a way to make medicine more patient-centered.

Patrick Skahill is a reporter and digital editor at Connecticut Public. Prior to becoming a reporter, he was the founding producer of Connecticut Public Radio's The Colin McEnroe Show, which began in 2009. Patrick's reporting has appeared on NPR's Morning Edition, Here & Now, and All Things Considered. He has also reported for the Marketplace Morning Report. He can be reached at pskahill@ctpublic.org.

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