3D printed phantom head aids in MRI studies

By JERRY YAN | October 4, 2018

Safer testing options of magnetic resonance technology are now readily available with the successful development of a 3D phantom head by Sossena Wood, a postdoctoral candidate in Bioengineering at the University of Pittsburgh. 

Rather than its typical sinister connotation, a “phantom” within the field of medicine refers to an object based on an anatomical feature utilized to test the performance of scanning or imaging devices like magnetic resonance imaging. 

Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) is a non-invasive imaging method in which the imager emits a powerful magnetic field and identifies atoms within the human body based on how they respond in order to produce images of internal bodily structures. 

First performed on a live patient in 1977, MRI remains effective for diagnosing disease and monitoring patient treatment. However, there are still many possible improvements to the technology, particularly in regards to the inability to view specific symptoms of certain neurological diseases with current existing technology. 

“Traditional MR Imaging does not provide enough detail; thus, researchers cannot determine the specific mechanisms that contribute to depression,” Tamer Ibrahim, associate professor in Bioengineering at Pitt’s Swanson School of Engineering, said in a press release.

As Wood’s mentor, Ibrahim runs the Radiofrequency Research Facility at the Swanson School of Engineering. The lab focuses on developing new magnetic resonance imaging techniques that allow for greater specificity to view smaller components of the body. 

As with many other areas of healthcare, testing of novel MRI technology cannot begin with human patients due to safety concerns. 

In order to address complications such as localized overheating and unknown effects of electromagnetic waves on the body, there is a need for a safe method to test MRI protocols. 

Although researchers are currently able to run numerical simulations to hypothesize the interactions between an electromagnetic field and biological tissue, there are limited options to validating these computational models.

The phantom head designed by Wood intends to satisfy the gap for a proper testing model that accurately reflects a human patient. 

“We wanted to create a phantom that resembled the human form... thereby providing a more realistic environment for testing,” Wood said in a press release.

Starting with an MRI dataset of a healthy male, Wood produced a 3D-digital image of a male head, intricately analyze and optimize the model through computer-aided design, and eventually synthesize a prototype using 3D printing technology. The phantom head is useful in testing the compatibility of various implants with MRI as well as detecting temperature rise in different biological tissues as a result of the electromagnetic waves emitted by MRI instruments. 

Ibrahim expressed optimism for future testing with the phantom head. 

“With our phantom head, we can test the safety of our imaging by putting probes inside of certain regions of the head and measuring the effects,” Ibrahim said. 

Adaptation of the phantom head will potentially lead to advances in MRI technology, like finer detail in MRI images. As a result, researchers will be able to tackle neurological diseases, including Alzheimer’s disease, schizophrenia and clinical depression. 

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