Sanjay Prabhu is a Staff Pediatric Neuroradiologist at Boston Children’s Hospital and Assistant Professor of Radiology at the Harvard Medical School. He is the founding Director of the Advanced Image Analysis Lab at Boston Children’s Hospital and Clinical Director of the SIMPeds3D print program. His current clinical research interests include 3D printing, imaging of pediatric epilepsy, use of augmented reality, clinical decision support, and machine learning in radiology. He has authored more than 100 peer-reviewed papers and 18 book chapters.

As the Clinical Director of the SIMPeds3D print program, he oversees the creation of bespoke patient-specific 3D printed models and virtual surgical procedures. He also provides support to the engineering teams in the areas of simulation using virtual reality, augmented and mixed reality and in rapid prototyping for pediatric surgical simulation and education. Over the last 4 years, the SIMPeds3D print team has created more than 500 bespoke 3D patient-specific models to help clinicians from various subspecialties in Boston and other parts of the world. Dr. Sanjay Prabhu will be a speaker at the #3DHEALS2018 conference on April 20-21st, 2018. 

Jenny: When was the first encounter you had with 3D printing? What was that experience like? What were you thinking at that moment?

Sanjay: My first encounter with 3D printing was when I saw a 3D printed model of my brain given to me when I volunteered as a subject during a functional MRI course in Boston in late 2009. I thought it was really cool that they could do this, and I mentioned this to one of my colleagues in radiology that this could be an interesting game-changing development in the future, and he thought I was crazy!

Jenny: What inspired you to start your journey in 3D printing (bio-fabrication/bio-printing)?

Sanjay: I had seen early reports of 3D printed models playing a role in surgical planning beyond the realm of craniofacial surgery from the work of pioneers like Shi-Joon Yoo in Toronto.  Then I was asked to help print a tiny hypoplastic mandible in a young infant at Boston Children’s in 2013 by Peter Weinstock, who had bought a 3D printer and printed a few trial models and some. The model played an important role in the surgical plan and made me realize the potential that this technology had to benefit some of our most challenging patients.  

Jenny: Who inspired you the most along this journey in 3D printing (bio-printing/bio-fabrication)? This can be a mentor, a patient, a celebrity, anyone basically. You can name more than one as well.

Sanjay: My friend and mentor, Peter Weinstock, Director of the Simulator Program at Boston Children’s Hospital showed me some of the prototype models that he had created when he invited me to help create bespoke models for surgical planning. His infectious enthusiasm rubbed off on me and as I worked alongside him, I became even more convinced as I heard from clinicians of how the models were benefiting their work and I saw the almost immediate impact our work was having on the outcome of surgical procedures in our hospital.

Jenny: What motivates you the most for your work?

Sanjay: As a radiologist and physician-scientist at Boston Children’s Hospital, I have the unique opportunity to test out and refine cutting-edge technologies to solve problems that clinicians and patients face every day.  When I feel I have had a really hard day at work, I go out to the lobby of the hospital and see the faces of patients. The thought that my work plays a role in improving their lives makes me forget my sense of fatigue and inspires me to think of new ways that I can help them and the clinicians who take care of them.

Jenny: What is/are the biggest obstacle(s) in your line of work? If you have conquered them, what were your solutions?

Sanjay: In the first couple of years of my work in 3D printing, it was difficult to carve out time to carry out segmentation and learn the various technical aspects of this developing field. Once the impact of this work became more tangible, we were able to secure funding from the hospital via the Simulation program and grants to fund my time and also employ more engineers. Further, the engineers that I had trained to segment got exponentially better and were able to take over a lot of the initial segmentation. I still have to find the time to check segmentation, talk to clinical colleagues and engineers during busy clinical sessions as a neuroradiologist for urgent print requests.

Jenny: What do you think is (are) the biggest challenge(s) in 3D Printing? What do you think the potential solution(s) is (are)?

Sanjay: For 3D printing to become a standard of care and more widely accepted in the medical community, we need faster printers, improved segmentation tools that can handle multiple modalities probably using machine learning algorithms, better materials that can mimic human tissue and reimbursement for 3D print services. Also, the cost savings and reduction in risk resulting from 3D printing should be considered when hospitals fund and invest in 3D print services. This will require more published evidence for the value of 3D printing in surgical planning.

Jenny: If you are granted three wishes by a higher being, what would they be?

Sanjay: An ability to travel back in time at will so I can learn from others and rectify my mistakes, an ability to gather knowledge from books instantaneously and of course, a free refill of wishes for use in the future.

Jenny: What advice would you give to a smart driven college student in the “real world”? What bad advice you heard should they ignore?

Sanjay: Work hard at the basics. Be a sieve for knowledge and be ready to learn from every experience- good and bad. You may not always get to follow your passion, but you will develop a passion for new things once you get good at it. Learn to say “no”, if the answer is not a firm “yes”.  Always be on the lookout for new opportunities and learn about new technologies, but always be looking for solutions to problems, not try to find a nail for a hammer that you have.

Jenny: If you could have a giant billboard to promote a message to millions and even billions of people in our community (i.e. healthcare 3D printing and bio-fabrication), what message would that be?

Sanjay: Always be on the lookout for problems that need solving and apply the best technology for the purpose, even you have to disrupt yourself to do it. 

Jenny: What were/was the best investment you made in 3D printing/bio-printing/bio-fabrication?

Sanjay: Training my engineers in anatomy and accurate segmentation has paid exponential dividends over time.

Jenny: What were/was the worst investment you made in 3D printing/bio-printing/bio-fabrication?

Sanjay: Time and resources wasted trying to convince colleagues who dabbled in this field and then abandoned ship in the early days that 3D printing and related technologies are here to stay.

Jenny: What was/is the biggest risk you took in your career?

Sanjay: The biggest risk I took was to give up a comfortable private practice job after my first fellowship in Australia and uprooting my family to come to the United States in 2007. Deciding to take up a consultant position in the 3D print lab in 2014 without knowing where this technology would lead us (or me!) eventually comes a close second.

Jenny: What do you enjoy in your spare time? What are you passionate about outside of your work/3d printing?

Sanjay: In my spare time, I love playing with my kids and reading books, mostly non-fiction.  I am a productivity junkie and love to read about ways to hack my way to do more in less time while making a greater impact.

Jenny: What is your favorite quote? Why?

Sanjay: “You want to have a future where you’re expecting things to be better, not one where you’re expecting things to be worse.”- Elon Musk

Jenny: What does the word “3DHEALS” mean to you? =)

Sanjay: A closely knit group working towards creating a better world and improving health through the medium of 3D printing and strong collaborations between various entities in health, academia, industry, and philanthropy.