Development of a 3D-printed nuchal translucency model: a pilot study for prenatal ultrasound training

Arch Gynecol Obstet. 2024 May 25. doi: 10.1007/s00404-024-07561-8. Online ahead of print.


Background: We used two 3D ultrasound volumes of fetal heads at 13 weeks to create live-size 3D-printed phantoms with a view to training or assessment of diagnostic abilities for normal and abnormal nuchal translucency measurements. The phantoms are suitable for use in a water bath, imitating a real-life exam. They were then used to study measurement accuracy and reproducibility in examiners of different skill levels.

Methods: Ultrasound scans of a 13 + 0-week fetus were processed using 3D Slicer software, producing a stereolithography file for 3D printing. The model, crafted in Autodesk Fusion360™, adhered to FMF guidelines for NT dimensions (NT 2.3 mm). Additionally, a model with pathologic NT was designed (NT 4.2 mm). Printing was performed via Formlabs Form 3® printer using High Temp Resin V2. The externally identical looking 3D models were embedded in water-filled condoms for ultrasound examination. Eight specialists of varying expertise levels conducted five NT measurements for each model, classifying them in physiological and abnormal models.

Results: Classification of the models in physiological or abnormal NT resulted in a detection rate of 100%. Average measurements for the normal NT model and the increased NT model were 2.27 mm (SD ± 0.38) and 4.165 mm (SD ± 0.51), respectively. The interrater reliability was calculated via the intraclass correlation coefficient (ICC) which yielded a result of 0.883, indicating robust agreement between the raters. Cost-effectiveness analysis demonstrated the economical nature of the 3D printing process.

Discussion: This study underscores the potential of 3D printed fetal models for enhancing ultrasound training through high inter-rater reliability, consistency across different expert levels, and cost-effectiveness. Limitations, including population variability and direct translation to clinical outcomes, warrant further exploration. The study contributes to ongoing discussions on integrating innovative technologies into medical education, offering a practical and economical method to acquire, refine and revise diagnostic skills in prenatal ultrasound. Future research should explore broader applications and long-term economic implications, paving the way for transformative advancements in medical training and practice.

Keywords: 3D printing; First trimester screening; Medical education; Nuchal translucency.