3D-Printed Anatomy May Replace Cadavers For Medical Training

Alan McStravick for redOrbit.com – Your Universe online

Three-dimensional printing may soon replace human cadavers in the study of gross human anatomy in the world’s medical schools.

The practice of learning on medical cadavers is a rite of passage in the medical education community that is instrumental in informing students on the complex inner workings of the muscular, skeletal and circulatory systems of the human body. Medical schools rely on good-natured individuals who bequeath their bodies for the advancement of science for their supply of study cadavers.

Despite the obvious benefits of cadaver use in the education process, some medical schools are unable or unwilling to engage in the practice. This could either be because they lack the facilities for the cost-prohibitive process of properly storing the body or because the school is in a region that frowns on the practice for cultural reasons. Only a couple of years ago, these issues were insurmountable. Today, however, we have the steady march of technology to thank for the education of future physicians.

Experts from Australia’s Monash University have developed a new training kit that consists of anatomical body parts all created by the relatively new practice of 3D printing. This innovation will likely find excellent practical use in the regions detailed above as well in medical schools currently employing the use of human cadavers in their course of study.

Called the ‘3D Printed Anatomy Series,’ it is believed to be the first commercially available resource of its kind. Absolutely no human tissue is used in its production, yet the kit contains all the major parts of the body required to teach anatomy of the limbs, chest, abdomen, head and neck.

Aside from taking the place of the cadaver for intricate and intensive study, professor Paul McMenamin, Director of the university’s Center for Human Anatomy Education, sees the new kit as being a learning aid for both medical trainees and other health professionals. Additionally, use of his newly designed kit could be a significant contributor to the development of new surgical treatments.

“For centuries, cadavers bequested to medical schools have been used to teach students about human anatomy, a practice that continues today. However, many medical schools report either a shortage of cadavers, or find their handling and storage too expensive as a result of strict regulations governing where cadavers can be dissected,” McMenamin explained.

Continuing, he stated, “Without the ability to look inside the body and see the muscles, tendons, ligaments and blood vessels, it’s incredibly hard for students to understand human anatomy. We believe our version, which looks just like the real thing, will make a huge difference.”

The ‘3D Printed Anatomy Series’, created with the use of both CT and surface laser scanning, produces the body structures in either a plaster-like powder or in plastic. The plastic printing allows for a higher resolution than the parts printed in plaster. Additionally, printing in plastic allows for the accurate reproduction of colors encountered in an actual cadaver.

“Radiographic imaging, such as CT, is a really sophisticated means of capturing information in very thin layers, almost like the pages of a book,” McMenamin noted. “By taking this data and making a 3D rendered model, we can then color that model and convert that to a file format that the 3D printer uses to recreate, layer by layer, a three-dimensional body part to scale.”

The Monash University team, currently in negotiations with potential commercial partners, believes the ‘3D Printed Anatomy Series’ will go on sale later this year. The team is excited by what they believe to be several benefits their new product offers over the traditional cadaver.

“Even when cadavers are available, they’re often in short supply, are expensive and they can smell a bit unpleasant because of the embalming process,” McMenamin stated. “As a result, some people don’t feel comfortable working with them.”

McMenamin concluded, “Our 3D printed series can be produced quickly and easily, and unlike cadavers they won’t deteriorate – so they are a cost-effective option too.”

McMenamin and his team have produced and published further details on their new anatomical kit in the online version of the journal Anatomical Sciences Education.


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