3D-printed body parts are being made for young patients.
3D-printed body parts are being made for young patients . Photo by Luis Monteagudo

Parham Gholami is a former video game developer. On Saturday, he talked at Comic-Con International about how he and his colleagues are working to merge video games with medicine and help patients at Rady Children’s Hospital in San Diego.

Parham is a research engineer at the Helen and Will Webster Foundation 3D Innovations Lab where the stuff of science-fiction technology is being turned into reality.

The lab was established in 2018 and creates 3D models from CT and MRI images to be viewed on a computer or on advanced equipment such as virtual reality goggles, or via a 3D printer.

“This is a new and emerging technology,” said lab director Justin Ryan.

3D printers have been used in medicine to make prosthetics, but the lab is using them to help surgeons and doctors provide better care for their patients. The images provide a better understanding of the anatomy of a patient and can decrease the time spent in surgery.

3D-printed models of parts of a patient’s body create a road map for doctors and allow surgeons to practice on the model before surgery.

“We’re giving them the opportunity to practice this so they feel more comfortable,” Ryan told a crowded room at Comic-Con.

Virtual reality headsets can be used to see images superimposed on a patient’s body. But it’s not for everyone.

Dr. Michael Levy, a neurosurgeon at Rady, prefers to use solid model parts, saying, “I like to hold things.”

3D images are also being used by the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children to help identify remains of bodies and solve the “coldest of the cold cases,” according to Joe Mullins, a forensic imaging specialist with the Center.

Mullins warned, however, that 3D technology is not as advanced as some people might see on crime shows.

“It’s getting there,” he said. “But it’s a few years away.”

Speakers said they are looking forward to future developments in technology that might give doctors more advantages in treating patients.

Joked Levy: “I like any tech that allows me to cheat.”