Interview with Shannon Walters, Stanford 3D Lab

Shannon Walters is an innovation enabler and workflow-optimization enthusiast. At Stanford 3D and Quantitative Imaging Lab, Shannon works closely with healthcare providers, researchers, and educators to enable effective health visualization.

Recent innovations are of particular interest to Shannon such as 3D Printing, immersive volumetric visualization, and concise reporting of changes over time. Mr. Walters will be a speaker for our upcoming webinar focusing on Point of Care 3D Printing and share with us his experiences at Stanford Healthcare.

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

Shannon: During my Master’s Degree in Information Systems, I recall investigating 3D Printing for a future technology assignment, more specifically printing of functional organs. At that time (2013) it was estimated that we were about a decade from printing implantable organs. My thoughts were amazement and hope. I couldn’t help thinking this was like Star Trek tech. I also had a desire at that point to be a part of this, and I was already working in a 3D lab doing digital 3D work so obviously I was brainstorming how our lab could expand into this.

Jenny: What inspired you to start your journey?

Shannon: Beyond the school assignment I mentioned, not long after that a new medical director joined our lab and was very persuasive that we should try to make 3D printing happen for our clinicians. I was already thinking of ways to do this, and I was promoted to a position where I could be the one to make this happen. We also had a summer intern who brought their own topic, which was learning how to create 3D models from medical software that could be printed. All of this aligned and got our 3D Lab jumpstarted into 3D printing.

Jenny: Who inspired you the most along this journey in 3D technologies?

Shannon: My inspiration comes from the well of possibilities. The more I learned about what 3D printing can do, the more inspired I became. Of course, there are many amazing people I have learned from starting with Dominik Fleischmann, the medical director for our lab. Roham Ramasamy was the summer intern who helped us clear the technical hurdles and get us to the point of actually providing a model to a vendor for printing. All of the Mayo Clinic speakers and the many seminars they hosted on 3D printing in the 2015-2017 timeframe. Jenny Chen for her steadfast approach to driving a 3D printing community and organizing great events. Vendors who took a gamble on disrupting the space by integrating 3DP tools into mainstream clinical image processing software. The many leaders of the RSNA 3D Printing Special Interest Group. I could go on and on. Right now, the team at 3DQ Lab that continues the day-to-day generation and tracking of 3D prints is what inspires me since they are bringing value directly to the surgeons who need it.

Jenny: What motivates you the most for your work?

Shannon: Most of my motivation comes from the possibility that the work I do can help one or many patients. The closer I am to addressing workflows or other concerns that directly impact patients at our location, the more motivated I am to be involved.

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

Shannon: My biggest (and I think our entire medical 3D imaging/printing industry) hurdle is the relative lack of knowledge of not just 3D printing, but all medical image processing value. This lack of awareness prevents the industry as a whole from embracing the idea that there is far more useful information within medical imaging than a radiologist could possibly extract with the limited time they usually have for diagnostic purposes. This leads to a lack of budgeting priority, space allocation, and many other critical systemic decision points that will not be properly informed of the value this type of service can offer.

I have NOT conquered them. I’m not prepared to list the multitude of manners I have attempted to solve this, but I can share that I have not stopped trying.

Jenny: 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)?

Shannon: Funding, space, talent, regulations, quality control. For sites that do not have much buy-in for 3D printing, I believe the users who want 3DP can partner with companies to provide 3D printing end-to-end. For sites that have moderate 3DP needs, perhaps the design can be on-site and the printing can be sent to a partner. Only those sites with significant enough 3DP needs will likely want to implement end-to-end 3DP pipelines. Of course, this doesn’t prevent anybody from tinkering with a 3D printer for their own purposes, which is highly encouraged.

This all may change if the CPT codes are converted away from Category 3 and accepted by insurers, and also include the technical fee. This would provide hospitals the financial incentive to invest in the infrastructure and systems to support 3D printing.

This all may change again depending on where the FDA falls on the topic of 3DP in healthcare, as many hospitals would not want to be considered manufacturers.

Stanford 3D Lab Bison Project
Stanford 3D Quantitative Lab Bison Project Photo Credit: Stanford 3D Quantitative Imaging Lab

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

Shannon: All persons are compelled by an overriding goal to achieve harmony among all of humanity and the ecosystems we encounter. Any damage/trauma already done to people or the ecosystems is corrected.

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

Shannon: Stop avoiding responsibility and leadership opportunities. These are going to teach you more than any book. Working with people will never stop, how can you do that well if you are only focusing on knowledge for yourself?

I’m not sure what bad advice to ignore, but I would value that which is authentic/real. Spend your money on experiences, not things. Vary those experiences, don’t do the same thing all the time. Broaden your horizons and become aware of the variances in life, people, and the world. In this manner, you will gain the creativity and confidence to navigate communications, motivations, and challenges.

Anatomy: Disarticulating Congenital Heart Disease ; Purpose: Provide example of Transposition of Great Arteries Mustard Switch procedure; Print Technique: Fused Deposition Modeling (FDM); Image Source: Computed Tomography of the Chest, 1 mm voxel resolution; Segmentation Difficulty: Very Difficult; ensuring no overlap of structures was difficult, many different models; Credit: Chris Letrong, Shannon Walters — Stanford University Department of Radiology, 3D and Quantitative Imaging Laboratory.

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