Oct 2, 2017 | By Tess

A team from the Central Queensland University in Australia is teaching students about micro-biology by 3D printing large-scale models of microscopic virus particles. The 3D printed learning aids offer a more dynamic and tactile way for students to learn about the microbes and viruses that can harm our bodies.

CQUniversity's Dr. Padraig Strappe holding a 3D printed virus model

Initiated by researchers from the medical and engineering departments at CQUniversity, the 3D printed virus project aims to illuminate and better explain virus particles, including those that cause sicknesses like polio, ebola, zika, and even the common cold.

According to the team, knowing a virus particle’s shape and structure is a key part of understanding how the pathogen lives and grows within the human body and, importantly, how it evolves. Obviously, these are crucial factors in deciphering how to treat and also prevent viruses.

Traditionally, blown-up microscopic images are used to study viruses and pathogens, as the tiny particles are indistinguishable with natural human vision. But studying two-dimensional photos does have drawbacks, which is why the Australian researchers have set about 3D printing detailed models of the viral particles.

"Viruses can be very difficult to study, so with this 3D printing facility we can take information about their structure and print them at huge, massive scales so students can hold them, look at them, and understand that fine detail of structure that's associated with the disease,” explained Dr. Padraig Strappe, a senior lecturer in biology at CQUniversity.

The 3D printed models are each about the size of a softball, and are made of plastic extruded through FDM 3D printers. Each virus particle took about 24 hours to 3D print, and has an accuracy of 0.2 mm.

The digital 3D models were gathered from different research organizations which had 3D scanned and uploaded digital files of the various viruses.

Excited about the endeavour, Dr. Strappe added: ”It's a very powerful learning technique—we can go into a lecture theatre and rather than looking at a picture, we can throw virus models into the crowd and say 'here, catch a cold!’"

Perhaps most difficult to wrap our minds around is just how much these 3D printed softball-sized virus models had to be scaled up in order to hold and visualize them. According to the research team, a human body scaled-up to fit the 3D printed virus particles would be as tall as Australia is wide, “with the tip of their head in Brisbane and their toes in Perth.”

CQUniversity student holds 3D printed virus model

(Images: CQUniversity)

The 3D printed virus models are meant to give students a more hands-on understanding of how different viruses manifest in our bodies, and some of the 3D printed particles even demonstrate how antibodies bind to them to try and combat the virus.

Dr. Strappe says the models could be especially useful in studying how certain viruses, such as influenza, evolve and mutate to overcome vaccinations.



Posted in 3D Printing Application



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