Anatomically realistic ultrasound phantoms using gel wax with 3D printed moulds

Efthymios Maneas, Wenfeng Xia, Daniil I. Nikitichev, Batol Daher, Maniragav Manimaran, Rui Yen J. Wong, Chia Wei Chang, Benyamin Rahmani, Claudio Capelli, Silvia Schievano, Gaetano Burriesci, Sebastien Ourselin, Anna L. David, Malcolm C. Finlay, Simeon J. West, Tom Vercauteren, Adrien E. Desjardins

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Here we describe methods for creating tissue-mimicking ultrasound phantoms based on patient anatomy using a soft material called gel wax. To recreate acoustically realistic tissue properties, two additives to gel wax were considered: paraffin wax to increase acoustic attenuation, and solid glass spheres to increase backscattering. The frequency dependence of ultrasound attenuation was well described with a power law over the measured range of 3-10 MHz. With the addition of paraffin wax in concentrations of 0 to 8 w/w%, attenuation varied from 0.72 to 2.91 dB cm-1 at 3 MHz and from 6.84 to 26.63 dB cm-1 at 10 MHz. With solid glass sphere concentrations in the range of 0.025-0.9 w/w%, acoustic backscattering consistent with a wide range of ultrasonic appearances was achieved. Native gel wax maintained its integrity during compressive deformations up to 60%; its Young's modulus was 17.4  ±  1.4 kPa. The gel wax with additives was shaped by melting and pouring it into 3D printed moulds. Three different phantoms were constructed: a nerve and vessel phantom for peripheral nerve blocks, a heart atrium phantom, and a placental phantom for minimally-invasive fetal interventions. In the first, nerves and vessels were represented as hyperechoic and hypoechoic tubular structures, respectively, in a homogeneous background. The second phantom comprised atria derived from an MRI scan of a patient with an intervening septum and adjoining vena cavae. The third comprised the chorionic surface of a placenta with superficial fetal vessels derived from an image of a post-partum human placenta. Gel wax is a material with widely tuneable ultrasound properties and mechanical characteristics that are well suited for creating patient-specific ultrasound phantoms in several clinical disciplines.

Original languageEnglish
Article number015033
JournalPhysics in Medicine and Biology
Issue number1
Early online date4 Jan 2018
Publication statusPublished - 4 Jan 2018


  • 3D printing
  • interventional procedures
  • tissue mimicking materials
  • ultrasound phantoms


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