Australian scientists have come up with a way to use a CT scanner and 3D printer to produce realistic human anatomical specimens for use in medical schools.
The aim is to create a set of models that covers the anatomy knowledge needed by medical and allied health students, says Professor Paul McMenamin, leader of the Monash University project.
So far his team has produced hearts, feet, legs, arms, shoulders, hands, necks and brains. They have also proved it is possible to create negative spaces, with the help of CT scans of warthog sinuses.
"We could have done human sinuses but this was fun and useful for one of our researchers," says Prof McMenamin, whose project is described in an article in the journal Anatomical Sciences Education.
Once the team have most of the body covered, they will start work on pathological specimens like tumours.
But the aim is not to replace cadavers at medical schools that have them.
“Some Australian universities don’t have cadavers or have a very limited supply, and in some countries the use of cadavers is completely taboo,” says Prof McMenamin.
Monash invested $75,000 in a 3D printer and rents scanner time for the project. An upper limb can be produced in about six hours of printing time at a cost of around $350 for materials.
Similar plastinated specimens imported from Germany cost $14,000 and take more than two years from order till delivery, says Prof McMenamin.
“Instead of 2,000 students trying to look at one plastinated specimen, 3D printing will give universities a chance to preserve multiple copies of their best dissections and even share them around the world.
“They could have an entire collection that looks exactly like a human body. But it won’t smell, it won’t be wet and it won’t need ventilation or a laboratory. It’s kind of like a 3D textbook.”
Prof McMenamin came up with the idea after his plan to build a plasticisation suite at Monash turned out to be too expensive.
“This was around about the time that 3D printing came to the fore. We had a moment when a few things came together. We had a need. We had dissected material and we had people at the university who knew how to do 3D modelling on the computer.
“To our knowledge nobody else is close to doing what we are doing.”
Anatomical Sciences Education, 2014 online