Experience is the greatest teacher, but being able to have actual experience with a patient’s individual anatomy prior to surgery has been out of reach of surgeons until now. Currently, there are various software systems that use 3D animation, interaction, and virtual participation to rehearse surgery electronically. But, researchers at the University of Notre Dame, Notre Dame, IN, say that they are pioneering a new technique that uses CT scanners and 3D printers to allow surgeons to train on physical copies of unique patient anatomies in preparation for operations.

The researchers are printing skeletons of small animals using 3D imaging taken from CT scans of live animals, a technique that is easily transferable to human anatomy. Not only this is applicable to bone tissue, but soft tissue can also be printed and prepared, they state.

“With proper data collection, surface rendering, and stereolithographic editing, it is now possible and inexpensive to rapidly produce detailed skeletal and soft tissue structures from X-ray CT data,” they say in a paper that was published in the Journal of Visualized Experiments. “The translation of pre-clinical 3D data to a physical object that is an exact copy of the test subject is a powerful tool for visualization and communication, especially for relating imaging research to students, or those in other fields.”

In addition to a surgical rehearsal tool, they envision the models as a less-expensive option for anatomy students.