April 2, 2013

Gradual improvements in 3D printing technology allows researchers to print high-resolution objects with enough detail from images. Now surgeons and students could use the technology to rapidly produce detailed skeletal and soft tissue structures from X-ray CT data.

Evan Doney, a grad student in Matthew Leevy's biological imaging facility at the University of Notre Dame, came up with the idea to create 3D printed accurate skeleton of a living animal based on CT scan data.

In a video published in the Journal of Visualized Experiments last month (March 22) Researchers explained how to use a number of pieces of software (Albira X-ray CT system in conjunction with PMOD, ImageJ, Meshlab, Netfabb, and ReplicatorG software packages) to convert CT scan data of bone structure and soft tissue shape into a file capable of being read and printed by a 3D printer.

Researchers tested this method by taking a CT scan of an anesthetized rat, and print out a plastic replica of the rat's skeleton and lungs using several different materials and 3D printers.

3D printed on ProJet HD3000 using translucent acrylic plastic

3D printed by Shapeways using nylon 12 white plastic

3D printed on a Makerbot

Images: Adapted from JoVE

Even in the early stages of development, this method provides educators and researchers a tangible experience with data that can not be adequately conveyed through a computer screen.

"At first I didn't really know what the killer app would be, I just knew it would be really cool," Leevy told Wired Science. But he began to see new possibilities that surgeons could use it to print out patients' internal structures for tough surgeries.

And the models could be used for education too.

A high-quality cast of a human skull costs hundreds of dollars, and a complete skeleton can set you back thousands, Leevy notes. 3-D printed skulls would be far cheaper. "At Notre Dame, there are 100 kids in anatomy class and they have to share 5 skulls," he said. "For 10 to 20 bucks they could each have their own skull to take back to their dorm to study."


"We can also use our approach to print skulls in which various anatomical structures are printed in a separate color, or in glow in the dark plastic, to highlight them and further facilitate the learning process."

Watch the video here on Wired Science.


Posted in 3D Printing Applications


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