3D printer, materials produce life-like anatomical features

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New 3D printing technology is capable of printing human anatomical parts that are realistic, and have the look and feel of the human body.

The technology, from Stratasys, is expected to help medical professionals have better access to realistic models that replicate the feel, responsiveness and biomechanics of human anatomy. It also will enable clinicians to see real-life models of a patient’s critical organs before they operate on them.

Stratasys executives contend that models produced by the Digital Anatomy 3D Printer will give medical professionals better anatomical options than they currently have.

In addition to the 3D printer, Stratasys is introducing three new materials—TissueMatrix, GelMatrix and BoneMatrix—that the printer uses to create cardiac, vascular and orthopedic 3D printing applications. A blood vessel “cleaning station” that removes support material from inside 3D-printed blood vessels is also being released.

The ability to print life-like anatomical features is expected to give organizations alternatives to traditional sources—typically, cadavers, similar animal anatomical parts or virtual reality models, says Scott Drikakis, medical segment leader at Stratasys. These alternatives can be expensive to acquire and costly to maintain, he adds, and it’s almost impossible to find anatomical features that specifically match a particular patient’s body.

The software and printer are able to take imaging data from devices such as MRIs or CT scanners, segment them for use in the printer and then replicate a patient’s anatomy with the 3D printer and specialized materials that then are used to replicate anatomy.

“Our company has been involved in surgical planning,” Drikakis says. “We see this solution as taking it a step beyond, making it functional as well. Part of the work being validated, documenting how materials compare from a functionality perspective.”

Realistic models can help clinicians experience what kinds of resistance they’ll face when making an incision, what kind of forces will pull on suture, or what they may experience in tapping or reaming procedures, he adds.

The new 3D printer has already been tested at several organizations, including the Jacobs Institute, a Buffalo, N.Y.-based medical innovation center focused on accelerating device development in vascular medicine.

“3D printing has been wonderful for recreating patient-specific anatomy compared to cadavers or animal models; however, the final frontier for organ model realism has been live-tissue feel and biomechanical realism,” said Adnan Siddiqui, MD, its chief medical officer. “We believe these models give us the best opportunity to recreate human physiological conditions to simulate actual clinical situations and to study new devices to establish their effectiveness before introducing them to patients.”

The new Stratasys 3D printer is expected to see adoption primarily by medical device companies, which require new ways to drive faster adoption of technologies and procedures, and academic medical centers, which are under increasing pressure to conduct training outside of the operating room to minimize risk to patients.

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