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Bionic organs?

Minnesota Researchers Create 3D Printed Organs for Realistic Surgical Training

Picture of Andrea Hunt
by Andrea Hunt
Dec 7, 2017

A team at the University of Minnesota created 3D printed artificial organs that offer better learning opportunities for surgical training.

Perhaps the idea of a 3D printed prostate with sensors sounds a bit odd. But replicas like these provide more realistic models for surgeons in training that could improve surgical precision in the future.

“The organ models we are 3D printing are almost a perfect replica in terms of the look and feel of an individual’s organ, using our custom-built 3D printers,” explains lead researcher and associate professor of mechanical engineering at the University of Minnesota Michal McAlpine.

It’s not just about feeling real, they also include soft sensors inside. These enable surgeons to practice more precisely and effectively.

At the moment, 3D printed organ models are still made from plastics and rubber. These materials have many limitations in practice because they can’t accurately mimic a real organ’s physical behavior.

McAlpine adds that the team is looking to have the technology patented. He says the organs could change the surgical field because they provide better training opportunities. The hope is that they help to reduce errors during actual surgery.

Their findings have been published in the journal Advanced Materials Technologies, but this certainly isn’t McAlpine’s first venture into bio-printing. While he was at Princeton University, he made headlines with a 3D printed ear from living calf cells that could ‘hear’ radio frequencies.

In early 2017, his team at the University of Minnesota announced that they had managed to create a bionic skin using 3D printed electronic sensors.

3D printed organ with sensors is better for surgical training

These new 3D printed organs are much more advanced than the versions students train on now. The latest organ models are based on MRI scans and tissue samples of several patients’ prostates.

The team used their custom-made 3D printer to create the replicas using silicone-based inks. What makes these new artificial prostates better for training is that they have sensors 3D printed inside.

“The sensors could give surgeons real-time feedback on how much force they can use during surgery without damaging the tissue. This could change how surgeons think about personalized medicine and pre-operative practice,” explained Kaiyan Qiu, a mechanical engineering postdoctoral researcher and lead author of the paper.

Based on the success of their model, the team hopes to develop more complex, life-like 3D printed organs using a wide variety of inks to mimic the properties of human tissue. This would also enable them to create cancer tumor models.

The research is also funded by the National Institutes of Health (NIH), including the National Institute of Biomedical Imaging and Bioengineering (NIBIB) and the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute.

“This project illustrates how successfully mechanical engineers and medical doctors can collaborate and develop novel and promising technologies for medical treatment,” adds Šeila Selimović, Director of the NIBIB program in biosensors.

What’s next for McAlpine in terms of 3D printing projects? He hopes that one day the researchers will be able to 3D print bionic organs to even replace real ones. Stay tuned.

License: The text of "Minnesota Researchers Create 3D Printed Organs for Realistic Surgical Training" by All3DP is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.

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