Interview with Mark Tan: 3D Printing Radiologist

Dr. Mark Tan is a Radiologist and the Clinical Lead of the Singapore General Hospital 3D Printing Centre. Dr Tan enjoys working with clinical teams on virtual surgical planning for head and neck, plastic and reconstructive, neurosurgical, oncological, orthopaedic and cardiac surgeries. Dr Tan also enjoys working with clinical teams, imagers, engineers, administrators, academia and industry in designing and producing from medical imaging patient-specific anatomical models for surgical rehearsal and implant sizing, surgical guides for localisation and reconstruction, bespoke orthotics and prosthetics, as well as custom implants, to improve clinical care. Dr. Tan speaks at the 3DHEALS event Point of Care 3D Printing.

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

Mark: As a radiology resident I enjoyed tinkering around with visualization software such as 3D Slicer to render and manipulate medical imaging. I also enjoyed attending talks and tutorials on image segmentation, mesh editing and 3D printer setup, which were available at a makerspace at the Singapore National Design Centre as well as on websites, such as It was satisfying to learn the software workflow and how to use the printer, and then watch the scan being converted layer-by-layer into a physical object one could touch and hold.

Anatomical Model of native and Transplant Kidneys for Patient Education and Counselling, Singapore General Hospital.

What inspired you to start your journey?

Mark: The more I explored, the more I grew interested in learning how to use medical imaging to make medical devices that could help patients. These include patient-specific medical anatomical models,  patient-specific surgical localisation and targeting guides, bespoke appliances as well as custom implants.  I felt these devices could improve how doctors counsel patients and plan complex procedures. They could make medical treatment more accurate, precise, effective and comfortable. They introduced means for treatment which were previously not possible (i.e. through patient-specific surgical guides and implants). They also allowed healthcare facilities to develop supply chain resiliency in certain types of key and critical medical devices. It has been great to be able to see, as well as contribute to ongoing efforts to turn the promise of clinical 3D printing for various exciting applications into reality.

Anatomical Model of orbital floor fracture used for reconstruction plate sizing, Singapore General Hospital.

Who inspired you the most along this journey in 3D printing?

Mark: Everyone in this field I have met has inspired me in some way through their dedication to use their knowledge and skills towards the goal of patient care. These people include Dr. Jonathan Morris from the Mayo Clinic, who was a pioneer in envisioning and bringing to reality 3D printing within the healthcare facility as a clinical service. Dr. Florian Thieringer and Dr. Neha Sharma from the University of Basel Hospital and the Swiss Medical Additive Manufacturing Group, for developing synergistic organizational systems that enable the suite of clinical, engineering, research and entrepreneurial capabilities found in an academic medical center to be expressed through clinical 3D printing and harnessed for clinical care.  As well as so many talents I have met with expertise in clinical, engineering, imaging, design, regulatory, programming, materials science, etc domains, that they use towards patient care through clinical 3D printing.

What motivates you the most for your work?

Mark: I’m motivated by being able to meet and work together with talented and creative people who bring their skills and expertise in various domains together for patient care. 

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

Mark: I work at developing clinical 3D printing into a service within the healthcare facility. This requires developing a ‘system-of-systems’ which allows the creativity and problem-solving capabilities of the healthcare team to flourish, which allows talents with skills from different domains to work together on complex healthcare challenges, which provides meaningful value to the patient, which are cost-effective within the milieu of healthcare, and, which are easily adopted and assured in their quality. These systems are challenging to develop and I can’t say that I am an expert in this, but I believe in keeping an open mind, being collaborative, thinking win-win, seeing the potential in situations and being optimistic as I try.

Anatomical Model and surgical cutting guide for Bone tumor osteotomy, Singapore General Hospital.

What do you think is (are) the biggest challenge(s) in 3D Printing/bio-printing? What do you think the potential solution(s) is (are)?

Mark: One of the challenges in clinical 3D printing is in developing and incorporating the suite of systems within the healthcare facility and its related entities to make it successful; these include systems for production, reimbursement, imaging, engineering, interdisciplinary teamwork, clinical-R&D-industry collaboration, etc. I think this requires those of us who are involved in this endeavor to recognize and appreciate why our efforts towards success in this field means so much for us and our patients. And, it’s also important to celebrate our efforts and successes along the way.

Examples of Appliances: Left – Ankle Foot Orthosis, Centre and Right – Wrist Hand Orthosis, Singapore General Hospital

What’s your favorite book you read this year and why? Alternatively, what’s your favorite book of all time you read and why?

Mark: I generally enjoy history and science fiction genres which explore analytically and imaginatively the implications of past and future technological development on the organization of as well as on the relationships within society. I find these instruments useful to guide thought about how technology did and could change lives!

Examples of 3D Printed Implants: Top – Non-resorbable Implant for cranioplasty. Bottom – Resorbable implant for Pectus Excavatum.

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