When medical students train as surgeons they typically practice on cadavers or use simulators. A simulation allows students to hone their skills by looking into a screen whilst moving tools below to operate on a faux body part. The unfortunate reality is that cadavers are in short supply and simulators are not as realistic. Additionally, neither can allow practice to be repeated in the exact same way, or accurately simulate conditions the students would encounter on the operating table. Researchers at the University of Malaya in Malaysia have addressed these issues by 3D printing a human brain. Not only does this afford students an accurate representation of precise surgical scenarios to train on, but the model can be replicated, allowing students to repeat procedures under the same conditions multiple times.
The research team used an Objet500 Connex made by Stratasys. This printer has the ability to produce materials with a wide range of shore values and colours through a process known as DDS (Droplet Deposition Stereolithography). Essentially it will print in a variety of durometers by laying down droplets of three different base materials. Although the DDS will not print parts that are as durable as those made by FDM (Fused Deposition Modeling), it allows for a much larger range of control in terms of aesthetics and rigidity of the finished part.
Objet500 Connex 3D printer
The Objet can print up to 14 different materials in one model, which gives the researchers a significant amount of control over material selection for the different parts of the brain. It also provides a layer thickness of 16-microns, which the researchers took advantage of when manufacturing a highly accurate mould for a tumour for inclusion within the brain model. Currently the 3D printed brain model is priced affordably at $600.