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3D Printing for Biopsy Evaluation

  • A 3D tool that allows experts to analyze biopsies more accurately and detect cancer more precisely
  • Allows technicians to better preserve the specimen
  • Allows for greater visual depth of samples with fewer steps, reducing cost and medical errors
  • Involves laboratory medicine


Yale Medicine physicians and researchers are trailblazing the development and clinical use of innovative imaging technologies. "Our lab is hard at work trying to push the limits of what is possible in terms of characterizing and understanding disease," says Richard Torres, MD, MS, assistant professor of Laboratory Medicine and director of the Clinical Flow Cytometry Laboratory at Yale School of Medicine. As new developments surface in relevant engineering fields, Dr. Torres and his fellow research scientists look for ways to apply these advancements to lab-test analysis and disease diagnosis and treatment. Most exciting is the use of 3-D imaging technologies to enhance the analysis of biopsies, or the removal and examination of a typically microscopic tissue sample, most often to determine whether a tumor is harmless or cancerous.

How is Yale Medicine’s lab medicine team improving biopsy tissue-sample analysis?

"A main focus of the lab right now is using 3-D imaging with human tissue specimens," Dr. Torres says. "Advanced optics can vastly improve the level of clarity and depth that can be seen under the microscope, allowing us to discover new things about disease, enhance our ability to detect abnormalities and improve the accuracy of diagnoses at Yale Medicine."

Why is 3-D analysis better for patients?

The traditional process of cutting the tissue samples, whether from the lung, kidney or breast, negatively affects the preservation of the tissue and reduces the amount that can be visually examined. "There is often not enough excess tissue left to perform additional molecular tests, and it is not possible to review the entire tissue specimen, which limits pathologists’ ability to make the most accurate diagnosis,” Dr. Torres says. With the optical 3-D analysis, the entire tissue can be examined and can be used for additional tests as needed.

How does 3-D analysis of a tissue sample differ from standard analysis?

“First, we are able to streamline the analysis process,” Dr. Torres says. "With the traditional type of diagnostic testing, a pathologist takes a piece of tissue, embeds it in wax and cuts it into pieces before analyzing it under the microscope." An overall benefit is that 3-D imaging allows for greater visual depth of samples with fewer steps, reducing cost and medical errors.

The new technique allows lab scientists to eliminate the steps of waxing, trimming, staining and distributing, so the sample can be examined quickly. 

What makes Yale Medicine's Department of Laboratory Medicine unique?

"Our hospital is special in that it has its own standalone lab medicine department, which not every hospital has," Dr. Torres says. "We have specialized expertise and quality personnel. Specifically we have individuals who deeply understand clinical lab tests and their limitations, improving accuracy in diagnosis and reducing medical errors." At Yale Medicine, most of the lab testing is done in-house, and the hospital has far more tests available on-site than the average hospital. "We serve as a reference center for the geographic area and receive samples from all over the state of Connecticut," Dr. Torres says.