Aortic diseases are often associated with changes in vessel geometry and blood flow.
Currently available tools provide limited regional information that do not fully capture
these complex alterations. Studies have shown that 4D flow MRI can be used for detailed
in-vivo assessment of vascular hemodynamics with 3D visualization and quantification
of aortic flow. Advances in rapid prototyping (3D printing) have also provided the
ability to manufacture complex models quickly and at low cost. The purpose of this
study was to illustrate the feasibility of combining 4D flow MRI with 3D printing
to create a comprehensive tool for cardiovascular evaluation.
We present the case of a 55 year old male (EF = 59%) with chronic descending aorta
dissection. Contrast-enhanced MRA and 4D flow MRI were performed for in-vivo measurement
of blood flow dynamics. Using CEMRA data in segmentation software (Mimics®, Materialise)
a digital model of the aorta was generated (figure 1A). A 1:1 replica was 3D printed
(1B) using Makerbot Replicator® 2X (max build size 246 × 152 × 155 mm3, layer resolution
100µm). 4D flow analysis included phase offset error correction (Maxwell terms, eddy
currents, velocity aliasing) with flow visualization using 3D streamlines. Quantification
was performed using planes at mid-ascending aorta (AAo), proximal descending aorta
(DAo), and at proximal and distal true/false lumens along the dissection (1C). The
3D print model and 4D flow findings were demonstrated to a volunteer group of radiologists
and a Likert questionnaire was used to gauge their view on utility of the model in
Computer time for segmentation, modeling and 4D flow analysis was 90 minutes. 3D printing
took 7 hours at a total cost of $15US. The dissection in the DAo, true/false lumens
and dissection flap were clearly visible in the printed model. 4D flow analysis revealed
high flow in the true lumen and substantially reduced flow in the false lumen during
systole (Figure 1C). 3D visualization showed complex helical flow near the true lumen
entry point (1C, white arrow). Quantification confirmed high flow (peak velocity 1.64
m/s) in the true lumen, whereas false lumen flow was markedly lower (peak velocity
0.43 m/s) with retrograde flow during diastole (1C, left). Clinician response to the
questionnaire was overwhelmingly positive as summarized in Table 1.
Clinician Survey Results
Strongly Agree (5)
Strongly Disagree (1)
(*) 3DP helped with visualization of this case
3DP can generally help visualize patient anatomy
3DP + 4DFlow beneficial in my clinical practice
3DP helpful when discussing findings with colleagues
3DP helpful in educating students/residents
3DP helpful when discussing findings with patients
3DP can have value for intervention planning
I can see 3DP become important part of my practice
(†) 3DP time of 7-8 hrs for model is reasonable
Expenditure of $15US for 3DP model is reasonable
3DP = 3D Printing
N = 9 (3 attending radiologists, 3 fellows, 2 residents, 1 medical student); all participants
were male except one attending who was female
Average age 33.6, std = 4.6 yrs; None of the participants had any practical experience
All values in Likert survey were standardized (Strongly Disagree = 1 to Strongly Agree
= 5; N/A valued at Null). % are approximates.
(*) There was overwhelmingly positive response by clinicians to patient-specific 3D
print model for the presented case.
(†) The area of highest clinician concern (length of time) also had widest spread
(Std = 1.3)
Integration of 3D CEMRA based segmentation of the aorta (A), 3D printing of a one-to-one
replica of the patient’s aorta and dissection geometry (B) and in-vivo 4D flow MRI
for the evaluation of aortic 3D hemodynamics (C). The white arrow indicates complex
helix flow pattern near the entry point into the true proximal lumen. AAo/Dao: ascending/descending
aorta, prox: proximal, dist: distal.
The results of our study demonstrate the feasibility of combining in-vivo MRI and
3D printing for the comprehensive evaluation of aortic abnormalities like dissection.
Clinicians are enthusiastic about the prospects of 3D printing patient-specific anatomy
thus larger studies seem warranted to assess the value-added potential for diagnostics,
medical education, surgical planning, and communication of radiologic findings to
patients. Combined with 4D flow MRI, 3D printing also enables in-vitro simulation
of interventions like graft repair on aortic flow characteristics, opening new horizons
in procedural planning.