Jun 23, 2016 | By Alec

3D printers are increasingly finding their way into academic hospitals, especially to produce surgical models that are used to prepare for particularly unusual, life-threatening or complex surgeries. But starting this week, surgeons and doctors-in-training in the Erasmus Medical Center in Rotterdam, the Netherlands, are exploring a slightly different application: using 3D printed bones and structures as training models for students. If expanded, this service could greatly reduce the dependency on human cadavers, which are currently extensively used to train the next generation of doctors.

This test started on 21 June in Rotterdam, and involves a 3D printed mastoid bone. The bone is an integral part of the human ear structure, and is often involved in ear infection surgeries. As Ear, Nose and Throat Specialist Dr. Mick Metselaar revealed to NOS reporters, his students usually practice such surgeries on human bones, taken from cadavers.

But during this test in the Erasmus MC Skillslab, six doctors-in-training and the surgeon himself were able to experience the 3D printed bone for the first time. Most reactions were quite positive. “Once you start working, you quickly forget that this isn’t a real bone. It feels very real; the structure is the same and the material can splinter, just like a human bone can,” one of the participants said. Quite a complex structure, it’s the first time the mastoid bone is 3D printed for educational purposes. Another participant added that it’s also far less ‘gross’ than a human cadaver. “A cadaver is always covered in bits of tissue.”

The 3D printed bones were developed by Medical Data, a collaborative initiative that includes researchers, engineers and surgeons from the Erasmus MC, TU Delft and the Leiden University Medical Center, all working to provide sustainable healthcare solutions. Medical Data also appointed seven new professors earlier this week, who will work on these solutions. Professor Richard Goossens, who was also part of the Medical Data initiative, pushed for the development of these 3D printed bones.

But this initiative is about a lot more than just making education ‘less gross’. “Should the test succeed we will be far less dependent on the availability of human cadavers,” Dr. Metselaar revealed. “Another advantage is that you are free to determine the anatomy of the bone in question, and can change it whenever you want. This makes it possible to practice particularly difficult surgeries again and again.”

That’s not just practical for educational purposes, but also for patients with unusual complications. “If you know about those complications in advance, you can prepare for surgery by 3D printing a model based on a 3D scan. You can then practice the surgery on the model the day before the actual surgery,” the doctor revealed. “You can also produce the exact same model over and over again, making it possible to objectively survey lessons as all students are working on the same model.”

Doctor Nanno Peek further argued that 3D printing also makes it possible to create different difficulty levels. “You can create anatomical variations that you don’t often see, and practice them,” he said. The doctors further believe that these kinds of models will become more commonplace in hospitals in the near future, and will be 3D printed to cover just about every part of the body. This is great news, as many academic hospitals continuously suffer from shortages when it comes to educational human cadavers. This test with 3D printed bone models was also covered by the NOS news, which can be viewed here (in Dutch, at 8.13).



Posted in 3D Printing Application



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