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The field of neurosurgery has experienced significant advancements as a result of 3D printing. This is not surprising given that most of the surgical procedures and corresponding pathologies that neurosurgeons encounter are exquisitely complex, involving intricate, minute anatomical structures, that cannot always be sufficiently appreciated via two-dimensional multi-planar imaging. Although it is true that diagnostic imaging has evolved from 2D renderings, these images are still viewed on a flat 2D computer screen. This makes interpretations related to depth difficult, forcing a surgeon to mentally construct complicated vasculature.

Accurate 3D models of patient-specific anatomy enable visualization of anatomical structures from different angles and also facilitate procedural skills practice. The latter is particularly important in the field of neurosurgery, due to the highstakes nature of procedures within this specialty, and the otherwise slow, step-wise accumulation of operative skill when working with real patients. In addition to surgical planning and procedure simulation, 3D models have contributed to the development of customizable, patient-specific neurosurgical implants and prosthetic devices.

Recent publications have described a vast array of applications for 3D printing in several subspecialties of neurosurgery. These areas include cerebrovascular, neuro-oncologic, spinal, functional and endoscopic neurosurgery. Clinical applications include the treatment of pathologic cerebral vasculature, brain tumors, spinal cord conditions, treatment-resistant neurological disorders, and remotely located pathology, respectively. Each of these fields has uniquely harnessed 3D printing to advance surgical planning, training and treatment for improved patient outcomes.