3D Printed Baby Model with Functional Organs May Help Doctors Save Infant Lives

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Performing surgery isn’t a perfect science, and even doctors need to practice their skills, especially when it comes to children. To hone those skills, doctors practice various techniques using anatomical models or mannequins. However, these are typically limiting regarding complexity and feel, which limits the training.

To overcome those limitations, Ph.D. grad student Mark Thielen (Eindhoven University of Technology) with the help of 3D Hubs, designed a shockingly detailed child mannequin that features a 3D printed skeleton with functional internal organs.

Mark’s prototype mannequin was designed using an MRI scan of an actual child to get the most accurate details.
Mark’s prototype mannequin was designed using an MRI scan of an actual child to get the most accurate details.

Mark began the design of the model prototype using MRI scans he garnered from an actual infant, which was ideal for the level of detail needed for the project. He then enlisted the help of 3D Hubs to transition those 3D scans into an anatomically correct model and began testing several materials to see what worked best for the medical application.

The model’s skeleton consists of two parts, the ribcage and spine, both 3D printed with an SLS 3D printer using thermoplastic elastomers, which house the functioning organs. Mark designed the heart and lungs to function similar to their organic counterparts. That is, the heart features working valves to pump fluid, and the lungs inflate/deflate to simulate breathing.

The mannequin’s heart was 3D printed using thermoplastic elastomer rubber using the PolyJet printing process.
The mannequin’s heart was 3D printed using thermoplastic elastomer rubber using the PolyJet printing process.

The model’s organs were 3D printed using the PolyJet printing process using thermoplastic elastomer (TPE) rubber, allowing them to expand and retract when pumping fluid or simulated breathing. What’s more, the organs are outfitted with embedded sensors, which detect/measure stress, pressure, and impact when undergoing medical testing. Tiny cameras are also housed inside, providing an internal view while undergoing prospective procedures.

That fluid also helps to provide feedback to trainees and can be used to determine if pressure is too high or low, simulating blood-flow under stress. While Mark’s medical mannequin model is still in the prototype stage and still under development, he hopes they will be utilized by medical professionals at some point in the near future.

He goes on to state, “I believe that developing and advancing what we started here can aid medical research in a broader scope. We could potentially create realistic patient models of other body parts to strengthen medical training for emergency procedures and pregnancies.”

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