posted on April 12, 2013 |
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One of the hottest topics in 3D printing has been its use by biomedical engineers in a quest to one day print replacement organs and bones. Although that future is still far off, that’s not stopping Dr. Maki Sugimoto, a surgeon and professor at the Kobe University School of Medicine, who’s using 3D printing to model facsimiles of his patients’ organs in preparation for surgeries today.
Using CT and MRI images of his patients’ organs, Sugimoto generates life-size models of kidneys, livers and other organ that are medically accurate. When printing on machines that can handle multiple materials, the outer structure of Dr. Sugimoto’s models can be rendered transparent, helping him see deep into an organ’s tissue where he can diagnose cancers, find scar tissues and build a plan for surgical operations.
While Dr. Sugimoto’s transparent organs are a fascinating use of 3D printing technology, what sets them apart is the fact that they have the texture and feel of a real organ. To achieve this unique characteristic, Dr. Sugimoto partnered with Fasotec Co., a medical engineering firm in China, to select materials with properties that would accurately reproduce the firmness and texture of the organ he is printing. In the case of Dr. Sugimoto’s liver model, a polyvinyl alcohol was used to simulate the wetness and texture of a human liver.
Even though more surgeons and doctors are becoming interested in integrating 3D printing technology into their practices, the cost of printers is still hindering their adoption. In Dr. Sugimoto’s case, the Objet Connex printer he uses costs somewhere between $250,000 and $500,000, depending on the model. However, Dr. Sugimoto believes that 3D printing technology has the opportunity to change the way surgeon learn and practice their profession, and he likens the technology’s transformative potential to an earlier disruptive invention, the cellphone. “The potential impact [of 3D printing] is no smaller than the shift from fixed-line phones to mobile phones.”
Images Courtesy of WSJ