At this point, when new neurosurgeons want to enter the field, they have to participate in real-life surgeries, where people's lives hang in the balance. What UM researchers are proposing is that these doctors first train on simulations of skulls, brains and tissues produced via 3D printing.
Over the past few years, three-dimensional printers have been used to produce a wide array of custom items, including materials that emulate human bone and brain tissue. The Malaysian team is now able to reproduce the feel and behavior of human bone, membrane and tissue in great detail via this method.
Dr. Vicknes Waran, who is a neurosurgeon at the university and a member of the research team developing this technique, says that cadavers are very difficult to come by as it is. Additionally, it is unlikely that neurosurgery residents will find a corpse with the type of tumors they are being trained to treat, for example.
Waran adds that the 3D-printed skulls enable students to repeat a surgery for as many times as they need to completely master a surgery technique or another. He explains that printing a brain – bone and soft tissues included – costs around $600 (€435),NPR reports.
The team in Malaysia is working closely with colleagues at the University of Oxford and the University of Portsmouth, in the United Kingdom, to fully develop this approach. A paper on its capabilities was published last week in the esteemed Journal of Neurosurgery.
As 3D printing technology improves, the degree of similarity between the printed tissues and bones and their counterparts in the human head will increase considerably. Already, this technology is touted for potential uses in building human organs layer by layer, so we may not have to wait too long for this to become a reality.