A team of medical experts in Melbourne has created a 3D-printed anatomy kit that is set to revolutionise medical training around the world.
The printed body parts which look almost exactly the same as the real thing can be used to replace difficult to get and expensive cadavers that are crucial for training doctors.
On display, the rows of body parts paint a macabre picture – but these hands, feet, brains and hearts are not the real thing – they’re 3D-printed copies.
Professor Paul McMenamin, from Monash University in Melbourne, hopes the anatomy kits will change the future of medical education.
“Not everyone has the luxury of having access to real cadavers specimens because of all the problems of handling cadavers, storing cadavers and using them over and over again for teaching purposes,” Professor McMenamin said.
“So the advantage of this is that the students could sit in any classroom and look at this, it’s a dry powder based print but it’s got all the anatomy that a student would need to learn that particular part of anatomy.”
Professor McMenamin runs the Centre for Human Anatomy Education at the university.
He says the initial process isn’t easy: it requires multiple CT scans of a real body part and then up to 12 hours of printing.
Once that’s done, copies are just a click away.
“If you dropped that and it broke you just order another one and we press print,” Professor McMenamin said.
The printed body parts are falsely coloured to help students distinguish between the different parts of the anatomy including the ligaments, muscles and blood vessels.
The real specimens gradually lose their colour the longer they are kept.
It’s a huge breakthrough particularly for hospitals in developing countries that can’t afford cadavers and for many Middle Eastern countries where accessing them is difficult due to religious reasons.
“There are exceptions for medical schools in that part of the world and they do allow some dissection to occur in medical schools but it’s not without its problems and cultural difficulties,” Professor McMenamin said.
“Then they’ve got to get people to donate their bodies and it’s that bequest program, how do you get a group of people who religiously believe a body should be not desecrated or touched, to donate their bodies?
“So a lot of these countries don’t have bequest programs, they rely on unclaimed bodies and that creates another ethical debate.”
Yousef Sadeghi is a Professor of Neuroanatomy at the Shahid Beheshti University of Medical Sciences in Iran.
He believes the 3D printed anatomy series will be a vital tool for teachers, particularly in Muslim countries.
“That can be very useful for the teaching of anatomy, especially for the universities in our area, like the Middle East,” Professor Sadeghi said.
“We have a little bit problem with dissecting the human body.”
‘Not everyone wants every part of the body’
The Monash team is hoping to have the 3D-printed anatomy kits available for sale within six to nine months.
Medical schools and hospitals around the world will be able to buy just an arm or a foot, or the entire body in a box.
“Not everyone wants every part of the body, you know if you were running a podiatry school you might just want a collection of feet dissected like this and 3D printed or hand therapists might just want copies of our 3D printed hands,” Professor Paul McMenamin said.
The kits are thought to be the first commercially available resource of its kind.
And Professor McMenamin and his team are not stopping there, they’re already working on a way of using 3-D printing technology to teach surgery.
“The skin would have the compliance of real skin, the muscles would feel like real muscles, the tendons would feel like real tendons and then we could create a surgical training tool which could be used over and over again instead of surgeons having to learn by using real patients,” he said.
And he says the technology is closer than you think.
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