Dec 15, 2015 | By Andre

Cadavers have been used as a tool for medical training for centuries now. Rembrandt, the Dutch master painter used a cadaver as the central character in his 1632 painting The Anadatomy Lesson of Dr. Nicolaes Tulp. It is no stretch to say that they were used before his paint touched that particular canvas and also countless times since.

While poking at a corpse is not exactly a task for the squeamish, it’s not possible to learn everything from anatomy texts alone. So for anyone pursuing a life in medicine, being able to learn from the real thing is a practical necessity. Sure, there are dummies that can be used to mimic a human body and this is a good tool in many cases, but if what I had to practice with during my First-Aid training courses all those years ago is any indicator, the level of detail was never really there.

To acquire a cadaver, however, isn’t as simple as logging into your Amazon account and ordering one half-off with free holiday shipping. Beyond the red-tape associated with obtaining and storing a corpse, you must also deal with heavy financial costs, a relatively short shelf life and even the moral/spiritual implications involved for some.

A solution to the need for detail without the obstacles associated with the real-thing comes in the form of the anatomically correct 3D printed version. While it might seem that a marriage of 3D print technology with this tried and tested medical practice is obvious in retrospect, the right set of ingredients (in the form of full-colour ProJet series printers) employed during the right time by a forward-thinking institution were all necessary to make it happen.

In the end it was the Monash University in Australia and Paul McMenamin (its director of the Centre for Human Anatomy Education) that really got the ball rolling. Only after considering the high-costs associated with creating a plastination lab did the idea of full-colour scanning (CT or laser) of the human anatomy in conjunction with a 3D printer really take shape.

Full-colour 3D printed cadavers have an advantage in “durability, accuracy, ease of reproduction, cost-effectiveness and the avoidance of health and safety issues associated with wet fixed cadaver specimens or plastinated specimens.” Beyond these advantages, professor McMenamin suggests that “the full colour is essential to reproducing a combination of realistic color fidelity and ‘coding’ -- vessels in red or blue, nerves in yellow, for example -- that is valuable in teaching.”

After a lot of hard-work to get to this point, his team at Monash University along with German production partner Erler-Zimmer have recently made available these prints so you to can own your very own cadaver. Unfortunately there are no prices listed anywhere online but I imagine that has to do with the customization potential of 3D printing (things can be scaled up and down very easily and this would affect the purchase price).

Light-hearted banter aside, the real-world applications of these 3D printed cadavers is already being experienced by those most in need. After being inspired by a speech by Dr. Ian Crozier - who once contracted Ebola while in Sierra Leone - McMenamin arranged for a full set of 3D prints and related posters to be sent to the University of Liberia’s Dagliotti Medical School.

Having these prints available in an environment often limited to the barebones minimum in terms of supplies ensures essential medical training to the least funded facilities. After spending some time in the school training students based off of the selection of 3D printed anatomy, McMenamin acknowledged that “helping the medical school in Liberia with the support of my CHAE team and Monash University has been the best thing I have done for my fellow human beings,” and that, “the students there were just so grateful for any help that was provided. It was very humbling.

So while it’s likely true that these detailed, hyper realistic 3D printed reproductions are still expensive, the costs and red tape associated with the traditional alternatives are pricier even still. This appears to be another case where 3D printing has come in and shifted about, if only in a niche, early-days sort of way, a hundreds years old tradition with a hyper-modern spin.



Posted in 3D Printing Applications



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