In this tutorial we will learn how to use the free medical imaging conversion service on embodi3D.com to create detailed anatomic muscle and skin 3D printable models in STL file format from medical CT scans. Muscle models show the detailed musculature by subtracting away the skin and fat. Even when created from a scan of an obese person, the model looks like it comes from a bodybuilder, Figure 1A. Skin models show an exact replica of the skin surface. The finest details are captured, including wrinkles and veins underneath the skin. Hair however is not captured in a CT scan and thus the model does not have any hair, Figure 1B.
Figure 1A (left): A muscle 3D printable model. Figure 1B (right): A skin 3D printable model
These models can be used for a variety of purposes such as medical and scientific education and research. Additionally, the skin models can be used to re-create a person's likeness in 3D from a medical scan. If you have had a CT scan of the head, you can create a lifelike replica of your head. You can create replicas of your friends, family, or even pets if they have had a medical CT scan. Alternatively, if you have a loved one who passed away but had a CT scan prior to death, you can use the scan to re-create an exact replica of their face. Even scans that are years old can be used for this purpose. Some people may consider this to be a little creepy, so if you are considering doing this think carefully first.
Before proceeding please register for an embodi3D.com account if you haven't already. You will need an account to use the service.
It is highly recommended that you download the associated file pack for this tutorial so that you can follow along with the exact same files that are used in this tutorial.
>> DOWNLOAD THE FREE FILE PACK BY CLICKING HERE <<
If you are interested in learning how to use the free embodi3D.com service, see my prior tutorials on creating bone models, processing multiple models simultaneously, and sharing and selling your models on the embodi3D.com website.
If you are interested in converting your own CT scan or that of a friend or family member, you can go to the radiology department of the hospital or clinic that did the scan and ask for the scan to be put on a CD or DVD for you. Figure 2 shows the radiology department at my hospital, called Image Management, and the CDs that they give out. Most radiology departments will have you sign a written release and give you a CD or DVD for free or with a small processing fee. If you are a doctor or other healthcare provider and want to 3D print a model for a patient, the radiology department can also help you. There are multiple online repositories of anonymized CT scans for research that are also available. If you have downloaded the file pack for this tutorial, example CT scans are included
Figure 2A, the Image Management (radiology) department at my hospital, where you can pick up a DVD of your CT scan as shown in Figure 2B (right). My hospital does this for free, but some may charge a trivial fee.
PART 1: Creating a Muscle STL model from NRRD File
Before we begin please bear in mind that this process only works for CT scan images. It will not work for MRI images. Before proceeding please check that the scan you wish to convert is a CT (CAT) scan!
Step 1: Convert Your CT scan to an Anonymized NRRD File with 3D Slicer
Open 3D Slicer. If you don't have the software program you can download it for free from slicer.org. Once Slicer has opened, take the folder from the download pack that is called STS_004. This folder contains anonymized DICOM images from a CT scan of the legs of a 24-year-old woman who had a muscle tumor. Drag and drop the entire folder onto the Slicer window, as shown in Figure 3. Slicer will ask you if you want to load the images into the DICOM database. Click OK. Slicer will also ask you if it should copy the images into the database, click Copy. Slicer will take about one minute to load the scanned.
Figure 3: Drag-and-drop the STS_004 DICOM folder from the file pack onto the Slicer window
Next, load the scan into the active wor king area in slicer. If the DICOM browser is not open, click on the Show DICOM browser button, as shown in Figure 4. Click on the STS_004 patient and series, and click the Load button, as shown in Figure 4. The leg CT scan will now load into the active seen within Slicer, as shown in Figure 5.
Figure 4: Open the DICOM browser and load the study into the active seen
Figure 5: The leg CT scan is shown in the active seen
Step 2: Trim the Scan so that only the Right Thigh is included.
Click on the Volume Rendering module from the Modules drop-down menu as shown in Figure 6. Turn on volume rendering by clicking on the eyeball button, as shown in Figure 7. Then, center the model in the 3D pane by clicking on the crosshairs button, Figure 7. If you don't have the same window layout as shown in Figure 7, you can correct this by clicking on the Four-Up window layout from the window layout drop-down menu, as shown in Figure 8.
Figure 6: Turn on the volume rendering module
Figure 7: Center the rendered volume.
Figure 8: Make sure you are in the Four-Up window layout
Next we are going to crop the volume so that we exclude everything other than the right knee and thigh. From the modules menu, select All Modules, Crop Volume, as shown in Figure 9. Turn on ROI visibility by clicking on the eyeball button, as shown in Figure 10. Then, move the region of interest box so that it only encapsulates the right thigh, as shown in Figure 10. You can adjust the size of the box by grabbing on the colored circular handles and moving the sides of the box as needed.
Figure 9: The Crop Volume module.
Figure 10: Turning on and adjusting the crop volume ROI (Region Of Interest)
Once the crop volume ROI is adjusted to the area that you want, perform the crop by clicking on the Crop button, Figure 11.
Figure 11: the Crop button.
The new, smaller volume that encompasses the right fight and knee has been assigned a cryptic name. The entire scan had a name of "2: CT IMAGES – RESEARCH," and the new thigh volume has a name "2: CT IMAGES-RESEARCH-subvolume-scale_1." That's a mouthful and I want to rename it to something more descriptive. I'm going to select the Volumes module, and then select the "2: CT IMAGES-RESEARCH-subvolume-scale_1" from the Active Volume drop-down menu. Then, from the same drop-down menu I'm going to select "Rename Current Volume". Type in whatever name you want. In this case I'm choosing "right thigh."
Figure 12: Renaming the newly cropped volume.
Step 3: Save the right thigh volume as an anonymized NRRD file.
Click on the Save button in the upper left-hand corner. The save window is then shown. All the checkboxes on the left except for the one that corresponds to the right by. Make sure the file format for this line says NRRD (.nrrd). Make sure you specify the proper directory you want the file to be saved as. When you are satisfied click on save. This is demonstrated in Figure 13. In the specified directory you should see a called right thigh.nrrd.
Figure 13: The save file options.
Step 4: Upload the NRRD file to embodi3D.com
Make sure you are logged into your embodi3D.com account. Click on Imag3D from the nav bar, Launch App. Then drag-and-drop your NRRD file onto the upload pain, as shown in Figure 14.
Figure 14: Uploading the NRRD file to embodi3D.com.
Figure 15: File processing options.
Step 5: Download your new STL file after processing is completed.
In about 5 to 15 minutes you should receive an email that says your file has finished processing and is ready to download. Follow the link in the email or access the new file via your profile on the embodi3D.com website. Your newly created STL file should have several rendered thumbnails associated with it on its download page. If you want to download the file click on the Download button, as shown in Figure 16.
Figure 16: the download page for your new muscle STL file
I opened the file in AutoDesk MeshMixer to have another look at it, and it looks terrific, as shown in Figure 17. This file is ready to 3D print!
Figure 17: The final 3D printable muscle model.
PART 2: Creating a Skin Model STL File Ready for 3D Printing
Creating a skin model is essentially identical to creating the muscle model, except instead of choosing the CT NRRD to Muscle STL on the embodi3D.com service, we choose CT NRRD to Skin STL.
Step 1: Load DICOM image set into Slicer
Launch Slicer. From the tutorial file pack drag and drop the MANIX folder onto the Slicer window to load this head and neck CT scan data set. This is shown in Figure 18.
Figure 18: Loading the head and neck CT scan into Slicer. It may take a minute or two to load. From the DICOM browser, click on the ANGIO CT series as shown in Figure 19.
Figure 19: Loading the ANGIO CT series from the MANIX data set
Step 2: Skip the trimming and crop volume operations
In this case we don't need to trim and crop a volume as we did with the muscle file above. We can skip Step 2.
Step 3: Save the CT scan in NRRD format.
Just as with the muscle file above, save the volume in NRRD format. Click on the save button, make sure that the checkbox for the nrrd file is selected and all other checkboxes are deselected. Specify the correct directory you want the file to be saved in, and click Save.
Step 4: Upload your NRRD file of the head to the embodi3D website.
Just as with the muscle file process as shown above, upload the head NRRD file to the embodi3D.com website. Enter in the required fields. In this case, however, under Operation choose the CT NRRD to Skin STL operation, as shown in Figure 20.
Figure 20: Selecting the CT NRRD to Skin STL file operation
Step 5: Download your new Skin STL file
After about 5 to 15 minutes, you should receive an email that says your file processing has been completed. Follow the link in the email or look for your file in the list the files you own in your profile. You should see that your skin STL file has been completed, with several rendered images, as shown in Figure 21. Go ahead and download your file. You can then check the quality of your file in Meshmixer as shown in Figure 22. In this instance everything looks great and the file is error free and ready for 3D printing.
Figure 21: The download page for your newly created 3D printable skin STL file.
Figure 22: Opening the file in Meshmixer for quality control checks. The file is error free and incredibly lifelike. It is ready for 3D printing.
Thank you very much! I hope you enjoyed this tutorial. If you use this service to create 3D printable models, please consider sharing your models with the embodi3D community. Here is a detailed tutorial that I wrote on exactly how to do this. This community is built on medical 3D makers helping each other. Please share the models that you create!
Please note the democratiz3D service was previously named "Imag3D"
In this tutorial you will learn how to quickly and easily make 3D printable bone models from medical CT scans using the free online service democratiz3D®. The method described here requires no prior knowledge of medical imaging or 3D printing software. Creation of your first model can be completed in as little as 10 minutes.
You can download the files used in this tutorial by clicking on this link. You must have a free Embodi3D member account to do so. If you don't have an account, registration is free and takes a minute. It is worth the time to register so you can follow along with the tutorial and use the democratiz3D service.
>> DOWNLOAD TUTORIAL FILES AND FOLLOW ALONG <<
Both video and written tutorials are included in this page.
Before we start you'll need to have a copy of a CT scan. If you are interested in 3D printing your own CT scan, you can go to the radiology department of the hospital or clinic that did the scan and ask for the scan to be put on a CD or DVD for you. Figures 1 and 2 show the radiology department at my hospital, called Image Management, and the CDs that they give out. Most radiology departments will have you sign a written release and give you a CD or DVD for free or with a small processing fee. If you are a doctor or other healthcare provider and want to 3D print a model for a patient, the radiology department can also help you. There are multiple online repositories of anonymized CT scans for research that are also available.
Figure 1: The radiology department window at my hospital.
Figure 2: An example of what a DVD containing a CT scan looks like. This looks like a standard CD or DVD.
Step 1: Register for an Embodi3D account
If you haven't already done so, you'll need to register for an embodi3d account. Registration is free and only takes a minute. Once you are registered you'll receive a confirmatory email that verifies you are the owner of the registered email account. Click the link in the email to activate your account. The democratiz3D service will use this email account to send you notifications when your files are ready for download.
Step 2: Create an NRRD file with Slicer
If you haven't already done so, go to slicer.org and download Slicer for your operating system. Slicer is a free software program for medical imaging research. It also has the ability to save medical imaging scans in a variety of formats, which is what we will use it for in this tutorial.
Next, launch Slicer. Insert your CD or DVD containing the CT scan into your computer and open the CD with File Explorer or equivalent file browsing application for your operating system. You should find a folder that contains numerous DICOM files in it, as shown in Figure 3. Drag-and-drop the entire DICOM folder onto the Slicer welcome page, as shown in Figure 4. Click OK when asked to load the study into the DICOM database. Click Copy when asked if you want to copy the images into the local database directory.
Figure 3: A typical DICOM data set contains numerous individual DICOM files.
Figure 4: Dragging and dropping the DICOM folder onto the Slicer application. This will load the CT scan.
Once Slicer has finished loading the study, click the save icon in the upper left-hand corner as shown in Figure 5. One of the files in the list will be of type NRRD. make sure that this file is checked and all other files are unchecked. click on the directory button for the NRRD file and select an appropriate directory to save the file. then click Save, as shown in Figure 6.
Figure 5: The Save button
Figure 6: The Save File box
The NRRD file is much better for uploading then DICOM. Instead of having multiple files in a DICOM data set, the NRRD file encapsulates the entire study in a single file. Also, identifiable patient information is removed from the NRRD file. The file is thus anonymized. This is important when sending information over the Internet because we do not want identifiable patient information transmitted.
Step 3: Upload the NRRD file to Embodi3D
Now go to www.embodi3d.com, click on the democratiz3D navigation menu and select Launch App, as shown in Figure 7. Drag and drop your NRRD file where indicated. While NRRD file is uploading, fill in the "File Name" and "About This File" fields, as shown in Figure 8.
Figure 7: Launching the democratiz3D application
Figure 8: Uploading the NRRD file and entering basic information
Figure 9: Basic information fields about your uploaded NRRD file
Next, turn on democratiz3D Processing by selecting the slider under democratiz3D Processing. Make sure the operation CT NRRD to Bone STL is selected. Leave the default threshold of 150 in place. Choose an appropriate quality. Low quality produces small files quickly but the output resolution is low. Medium quality is good for most applications and produces a relatively good file that is not too large. High quality takes the longest to process and produces large output files. Bear in mind that if you upload a low quality NRRD file don't expect the high quality setting to produce a stellar bone model. Medium quality is good enough for most applications.
If you wish, you have the option to specify whether you want your output file to be Private or Shared. If you're not sure, click Private. You can always change the visibility of the file later. If you're happy with your settings, click Save & Submit Files. This is shown in Figure 10.
Figure 10: Entering the democratiz3D Processing parameters.
Step 4: Review Your Completed Bone Model
After about 10 to 20 minutes you should receive an email informing you that your file is ready for download. The actual processing time may vary depending on the size and complexity of the file and the load on the processing servers. Click on the link within the email. If you are already on the embodied site, you can access your file by going to your profile. Click your account in the upper right-hand corner and select Profile, as shown in Figure 11.
Figure 11: Finding your profile.
Your processed file will have the same name as the uploaded NRRD file, except it will end in "– processed". Renders of your new 3D model will be automatically generated within about 6 to 10 minutes. From your new model page you can click "Download this file" to download. If you wish to share your file with the community, you can toggle the privacy setting by clicking Privacy in the lower right-hand corner. You can edit your file or move it from one category to another under the File Actions button on the lower left. These are shown in Figure 12.
Figure 12: Downloading, sharing, and editing your new 3D printable model.
If you wish to sell your new file, you can change your selling settings under File Actions, Edit Details. Set the file type to be Paid, and specify a price. Please note that your file must be shared in order for other people to see it. This is shown in Figure 13. If you are going to sell your file, be sure you select General Paid File License from the License Type field, or specify your own customized license. For more information about selling files, click here.
Figure 13: Making your new file available for sale on the Embodi3D marketplace.
That's it! Now you can create your own 3D printable bone models in minutes for free and share or sell them with the click of a button.If you want to download the STL file created in this tutorial, you can download it here. Happy 3D printing!
Dear Community Members,
After many months of work, we are happy to announce the addition of a feature that will allow you to sell medical models you have designed on Embodi3D.com. While we always have encouraged our members to consider allowing their medical STL files to be downloaded for free, we understand that when a ton of time is invested in creating a valuable and high-quality model, it is reasonable to ask for something in return. Now Embodi3D members have two options: 1) You can share your medical models for free, or 2) you can charge for them. We hope these two options encourage more sharing and file uploads. The more models available, the more it helps the medical 3D printing community.
For more details on how to sell your medical masterpieces on Embodi3D, go to the selling page.
Thanks, and happy 3D printing!
3D bioprinting holds the key to the future organ replacement. One of the recent developments involving this technology is the restoration of joint cartilage. Researchers from the Technische Universitat Munchen are currently investigating a novel 3D printing method that uses a combination of hydrogels and microfiber scaffolding. The result is a structured product that closely resembles a natural joint cartilage.
To create the structure, the researchers used a new additive manufacturing technique called the melt electrospinning writing. With this procedure, a material dubbed as the “collector” moves at a given speed while melted materials are deposited by layer before they cool off and create the foundation for the other layers. This leads to the creation of a 3D structure that is conducive for cell growth. Moreover, the structure also allows natural healing and promotes the growth of new tissues.
One of the proponents of the research Professor Dietmar W. Hutmacher noted that the process of electrospinning writing imitates the natural way of building cartilage which contributes to the success of the entire procedure. This new procedure is also very promising not only for joint repair but also for breast reconstruction and heart tissue engineering. The researchers are also studying different methods in incorporating this procedure to produce other types of organs.
3D bioprinting provides a lot of potential to the field of medicine. The development of this procedure can benefit soft tissue engineering and it will not be long when doctors will be able to print other soft tissues for people who are in need of transplants.
The world has seen a lot of innovations with 3D printing technology. Recently, bioengineers from the Swansea University in Wales developed a way to create 3D printed organs using representative biological structures.
The biodegradable tissue scaffold dubbed as Celleron comes with a liquid biopolymer and a filament derivative. Led by Dr. Dan Thomas, the engineers from the Swansea University was able to create this material and replicate the underlying structures of complex tissues. Celleron contains phospholipids, grapheme, ibuprofen, collagen, agarose, antibiotics and PLGA. Once printed, the scaffold provides independent cell adhesion, differentiation as well as cell to cell communication.
After being printed, Celleron ferments when an activator is added. This will cause the material to become microporous which increases the surface area as well as the mechanical strength of the material. Moreover, the protein growth factors turn into a biologically attractive composite.
Currently, the researchers were able to create a human ear using Celleron. Dr. Thomas explains that the ear is a technically challenging organ to replicate because of its complex structures and folds. While the researchers were successful in creating the 3D bioprinted ear, they are looking for other ways to use this technology. Recently, they are looking for ways to engineer tooth implants as well as heart valve tissue structures using Celleron.
Dr. Thomas and his team are planning to share this technology for biopolymer creation. Hopefully, many researchers will be able to create compatible biomaterials to create new age 3D bioprinted organs and body parts in the future.
3D printing is not only used to create prosthetics but it has a lot of medical applications. Researchers from the University of Michigan used 3D printers to create splints made from compatible biomaterials to help children suffering from airway anomalies such as tracheobronchomalacia which is a condition that causes the airways to spontaneously collapse.
Children born with airway anomalies do not have any treatment options except surgery. But the problem with conventional surgical procedures is that children need to be on mechanical ventilation all throughout their lives. Thus, the researchers created the 3D printed splints made from polycaprolactone – a biodegradable splint – designed to act as a scaffold of the airway until the trachea can hold up on its own. This material is reabsorbed by the body after three years.
To create the splint that matches the exact shape of the patient’s trachea, the researchers use the imaging results such as MRI and CT scans from their individual patients. To sew the 3D printed splints, the surgeons sew them around the bronchus and the trachea to help guide and fortify these organs as the pediatric patient grows. Researchers also need to check the condition of the artificial splints periodically with CT scans and MRI.
This technology has already been tested on three patients and researchers were not able to take note of any complications. This means that this innovation can now be made available to clinical trials so that other patients can also take advantage of this 3D printed medical breakthrough.
Bioengineers with UC Berkley just published an article with Science Translation Medicine about a breakthrough technology that can easily detect certain diseases using a 3D printed microscope and a smartphone. The development could mean the difference between life and death for people in hard to reach areas of the world where hospitals and blood analysis equipment are few and far between.
The CellScope Loa
Using an FDM 3D printer, lead author Daniel Fletcher and his colleagues printed a relatively simple smart phone adaptor with gears, microcontrollers and a USB port. Together, the adaptor and smartphone can hold and analyze a drop of blood by communicating via Blutetooth. An app on the smartphone scans the blood for certain parasites and provides results in only two minutes.
“We previously showed that mobile phones can be used for microscopy, but this is the first device that combines the imaging technology with hardware and software automation to create a complete diagnostic solution,” said Fletcher. “The video CellScope provides accurate, fast results that enable health workers to make potentially life-saving treatment decisions in the field.”
The Loa Loa Parasite
The CellScope Loa is an exciting solution for people in central Africa, where parasitic diseases of the blood are more common and often life threatening if not detected and treated properly. However this device was developed to serve a very specific purpose—detect the Loa Loa parasite.
A myriad of dangerous blood borne parasites are found in the region, including one that causes river blindness from fly bites, and African Eye Worm (lymphatic filariasis), which is contracted from mosquitos and can cause severe elephantiasis of affected body parts. Both of these debilitating parasites are treatable, but not if the patient is also carrying the Loa Loa Parasite. If someone is treated for river blindness or African Eye Worm while Loa Loa is in their blood system, the interaction between the parasite and medicine can result in fatal brain damage. This is why a detection device like the CellScope Loa can be life saving for people seeking treatment for parasitic diseases of the blood.
According to West African disease expert Vincent Resh, “The availability of a point-of-care test prior to drug treatment is a major advance in the control of these debilitating diseases. The research offering a phone-based app is ingenious, practical and highly needed.”
Promising Field Tests
Professor Fletcher’s published research focused on successful field tests of CellScope Loa in Cameroon, where Loa Loa and other blood parasites are prevalent. The device was shown to have high accuracy compared to traditional tools (manually counting the worms visible in a blood sample). Costing less than $100 to produce, the device is not only an affordable and portable test, but it is also more efficient than traditional methods. The researchers plan to expand the study to a sample of 40,000 people.
“This research is addressing neglected tropical diseases,” said Fletcher. “It demonstrates what technology can do to help fill a void for populations that are suffering from terrible, but treatable, diseases.”
Find out more about CellScope Loa and the research at the UC Berkley website.
Thanks to 3D printed, growth-flexible implants, three baby boys now have the chance to overcome a growth defect that would have likely kept them from living past infant-hood.
A Grim Illness
The boys are suffering from pediatric tracheobronchomalacia (TBM), a condition that causes a weak airway at high risk of collapse, resulting in halted breathing and heart failure. Conventionally, the only treatment available came with high risk complications. The babies would need a tracheostomy tube with a mechanical ventilator. This would keep the boys in the hospital because of potential life-threatening complications, such as respiratory arrest from accidental tube occlusion. About one in every 2000 children are affected by the disease.
In a new experiment, researchers at the University of Michigan’s C.S. Mott took a different approach by fitting the three baby boys with a 3D-printed stents that were designed to be flexible as their airways grow.
According to the research paper published in Science Translational Medicine, "If a child can be supported through the first 24 to 36 months of tracheobronchomalacia, airway growth generally results in a natural resolution of this disease.”
The Three Successes
The stents were developed for 3 boys with TBM; Kaiba who was 3 months old, Ian who was 5 months old, and Garrett who was 16 months old. After three years of observation, the stents seemed to be working well.
Dr. Glenn Green, senior author on the paper, said, ”Before this procedure, babies with severe tracheobronchomalacia had little chance of surviving. Today, our first patient Kaiba is an active, healthy 3-year-old in preschool with a bright future.”
The stents were made with polycaprolactone, which is a harmless substance when dissolved in the body. The devices were also ultra-personalized for each patient’s anatomy on the “submillimeter scale.” They were able to personalize and 3D print the inner diameter, number of suture holes, wall thickness and length of the devices, which are made of biomaterials that are designed to expand. The tubes were also designed to allow doctors to manually expand their radius as the babies grew larger.
Another important benefit of the 3D printing method for the babies was that surgeons could print models of their trachea and bronchi to practice the operation beforehand. Dr. Richard Ohye was the lead pediatric cardiovascular surgeon who worked with the boys. He thinks that these three successes suggest that clinical trials with less-severe TBM will be possible in the near future.
"The device worked better than we could have ever imagined,” said Dr. Green. “We have been able to successfully replicate this procedure and have been watching patients closely to see whether the device is doing what it was intended to do.
We found that this treatment continues to prove to be a promising option for children facing this life-threatening condition that has no cure.”
There are many applications of 3D printing in the medical world and it is no longer surprising if experts in this field will develop even more outrageous uses for it. While it is common to hear about 3D printed bones or other important organs of the body, some researchers have already taken 3D printing to the next level by printing body parts which 3D printers do not commonly print.
German cosmetic industry giant Anita has recently used 3D printers to create breast prosthetics. The breast prostheses are very identical to the user’s breasts. This new invention is geared towards women who are breast cancer survivors or those who are transitioning from male to female.
Anita is an underwear brand and they have adopted the 3D printing technology to help women who are in dire need for breast prostheses. Georg ber Unger, one of the junior directors of Anita, noted that the conventional silicone breast prostheses need large number of molds in order to be made. Moreover, the molds also change all the time and this creates a problem especially when it comes to making the prostheses. In fact, the use of conventional templates makes the production of conventional breast prostheses very time-consuming. A single pair will have to take 14 days in order to be finished.
The use of 3D printer has made the process very easy. To make the 3D printed breast prostheses, an aluminum mold is used. The model is also scanned and reworked in a CAD software to create an identical synthetic breast of the patient.
A lot of great 3D printable anatomic files have been shared on Embodi3D in the past few years. One of the most popular categories is skulls. There are many files available, and they are organized under Skull and Head STLs in the file Downloads area of the site. You can download any of these files by registering an account and in most cases the files are free to download.
Below I created a list of my favorite skull files for your learning and enjoyment.
These 3D printable skull models are a fantastic resource for education and show both normal anatomy and disease and injury. Thanks to the generosity of our contributors, all of these models are available for free download and 3D printing.
This a diverse set of files ready for 3D bioprinting. These STL skull files come from CT scans and demonstrate some of the pathology physicians encounter. Several different cuts and individual bones make much of the anatomy easily accessible which is great for education.
I hope you enjoy this collection. If you are using these skull files for an interesting project, please share your experiences with the community by posting a comment.
3D printable skull 1 - front tooth out, from Dr. Gobbato
3D printable skull 2 - Male skull
3D printable skull 3 - from Dr. Marco Vettorello
Skull fracture 1 - fracture of frontal bone
Skull fracture 2 - fracture of mandible (jaw bone)
Skull after craniotomy surgery (with surgical hole drilled into it)
Half skull (sagittal cut) great for education
skull base, showing foramina, for medical education
Full and half size "Lace" skulls. A unique item for your desk.
Frontal bone of skull (forehead bone)
Mandible (jaw bone)
3D printing has made its way in medical technology. In fact, there are many uses of 3D printing in medicine. One of the most innovative uses of 3D printing was developed by doctors in Zhujiang Hospital in China by using it to study a very complex surgical procedure called liver resection surgery.
Professor of Department of Hepatobiliary in Zhujiang Hospital Fang Chihua noted that surgically removing tumor in the liver is very difficult if conventional imaging methods are used. Without sufficient information, surgeons cannot assess the risk of hepatic failure after the patient undergoes surgery.
However, the use of 3D printing technology has allowed doctors to create a simulation model of the patient’s liver. They used the complex simulation to study the liver as well as the surrounding organs that are affected. The 3D printed model was created based on the imaging scans of the patient. Moreover, the model was also printed in a 1:1 scale which means that the size and the dimension of the liver is the same as what the doctors will find inside the patient’s body.
Surgeons noted that the 3D printed model of the liver allowed them to see as well as understand the lesion of the affected area. This allowed them to precisely navigate during the surgery without damaging important structures like the veins, arteries and other organs. This procedure has already been tested and the patient was able to recover successfully despite of the risks involved. Hopefully this procedure will be able to help more patients suffering from liver diseases.
Synthetic eyeballs are possible in the near future thanks to 3D printing. While 3D bioprinting was already able to produce tissues for kidneys, nose, skin and bones, researchers find developing the technology to make 3D printed eyes elusive.
However, a company from Italy called MHOX has proposed an idea for synthetic eyeballs that can be produced by using 3D printer. To make this synthetic eyeball more interesting, it comes with a wide variety of functions thus making this innovation close to what we call bionic or superhuman eyes.
The project stems from the idea of augmenting what the human sense of sight cannot do thus increasing the functionality of the eye. MHOX is planning to release different models of the bioprinted eye called EYE which is an acronym for Enhance Your Eye. The three models include EYE Heal, EYE Advance and EYE Enhance. The first concept aims to help cure blindness and any types of diseases to the eyes while the EYE Advance is basically a bionic eye that comes with a small Wi-Fi modem that allows users to upload filtered videos to the cloud. Lastly, the EYE Enhance will allow the owners to improve their vision. It also comes with different filters to improve the sight of the wearer.
Lead designer Filippo Nasetti noted that it is high time for the superhuman 3D printed eye to be developed. While this innovation is very promising, there is a catch. You need to have your own eyes surgically removed so that the bionic eye can be inserted onto the socket. While this is a scary thought, researchers are still developing a way to use the bionic eye without resorting to the surgical removal of the real eyes.
Since 3D Printing became a widely-used technology in the past decade, its impact on the Biomedical field has been astronomical. As documented on this blog and elsewhere, 3D printing technology has enabled cheaper and more efficient prosthetics, given doctors opportunities to practice complicated surgeries, helped researchers take the first steps towards printing organs, repair damaged nerves, create skin grafts, among many other life-saving advancements.
While we can barely keep up with all the new healthcare benefits of 3D Printing technology surfacing every week, there’s now a new type of printing on the block that promises to amplify these advancements even more.
What is 4D Printing?
4D Printing is in many ways just like 3D Printing, except that the goal is to design objects that can change shape after they are printed when exposed to some sort of external stimuli, such as water or heat. Researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) were the first to experiment with technology.
“We can now generate structures that will change shape and functionality without external intervention,” says Dan Raviv, lead author on the study published in Scientific Reports in 2014. They 3D Printed an object that was able to expand into different shapes when put in contact with a water absorbent material.
“The most exciting part is the numerous applications that can emerge from this work,” said Raviv. “This is not just a cool project or an interesting solution, but something that can change the lives of many.”
Researchers with the ARC Centre of Excellence for Electromaterials Science (ACES) at the University of Wollongong are already finding uses for the technology in additive manufacturing by creating a valve that changes shape depending on the water temperature around it.
"So it's an autonomous valve, there's no input necessary other than water; it closes itself when it detects hot water," said Professor Marc in het Panhuis of ACES.
What Does this Mean for Biomedicine?
Frost & Sullivan recently released a report about the potential uses of the new 4D Printing technology for healthcare. Aside from its superior performance, quality, and efficiency compared to 3D Printing, 4D printing will be able to create new biomaterials with increased capabilities. The areas expected to benefit include tissue engineering, artificial organs, design of nanoparticles, the creation of nanorobots for chemotherapy, as well as the possibility of self-assembling human-scale biomaterials.
At the moment, the cost of the technology has kept 4D Printing out biomedical research projects. Yet as additive manufacturing continues to unlock the possibilities of 4D Printing, it likely won’t last for long.
According to Jithendranath Rabindranath, a Research Analyst with Technical Insights, “After a few years of mass commercialization, the cost of employing 4-D printing technology will decrease, prompting several companies across a wide range of industries to integrate this technology into their manufacturing systems. Uptake will also strengthen due to the positive funding environment, which encourages confederations, research laboratories, universities, startups and big market participants especially in North America to invest in R&D.”
Photo Credits: phys.Org and HealthITOutcomes.com
Three-dimensional printing has propelled major innovations in different areas of education, art, engineering, manufacturing and medicine. Recent advances on 3D bioprinting have helped revolutionized how doctors are able to deal with complicated illnesses and injuries. A lot of patients were able to benefit from this remarkable medical application from 3D printed prosthetic legs to medical models that guide surgeons conducting complex procedures.
3D printing has also helped in creating facial prostheses, especially for individuals who battled with cancer but left them with serious and severe deformities like Keith Londsdale. He is a 74-year-old patient battling an aggressive form of basal cell carcinoma since 1990. He had 45 different procedures in order to save his life but he was left without cheekbones, upper jaw bone, nose and palate. With such a condition, he is having difficulty eating, drinking and speaking.
Londsdale’s doctors searched for solutions to make his life normal as possible. He had different mask-like prostheses but none of those has helped him function adequately. Other masks did not look real and did not fit his face well in an aesthetic viewpoint.
Then the new 3D printing technology provided a great solution which Scott, Keith’s son seized. Scott partnered with Jason Watson, a Reconstructive Scientist at Nottingham’s Queen’s Medical Center. Watson created a new facial prosthetic for Keith based off of his son Scott’s facial features.
Scott’s face was 3D scanned and an advanced computer algorithm created a 3D printable model. The team at Queen’s Medical Centre now had a 3D printed physical replica of a portion of Scott’s face where they were able to copy in wax and create a mold form. A silicone mask was created from that, which fit Keith’s face nearly perfectly. Watson stated that this procedure was one of its kind because it was the first time that they created a prosthesis based on a family resemblance.
Keith Londsdale now looks a little like his 43-year-old son and for the first time He is now able to leave their home happier and with more confidence.
The most common applications of 3D printing in medical technology is in orthopedics. However, medical 3D printing has been innovated so that it is now used to create synthetic organs for pathological studies of diseases.
The researchers from the Tulane University School of Medicine have been working with 3D printing to create models of soft tissue tumors. The researchers hope to use the models to study the condition of the soft tissue tumor in their individual patients. The models can also help them create diagnoses and also help plan surgery selection. Researchers have created models of tumor from patients suffering from kidney problems to study the surgical procedures to deal with the problem but put the patients at minimal risks.
The renal model is very realistic and it has the characteristics of the patient’s actual organ. To create the 3D printed model, individual patients need to undergo different types of medical imaging procedures such as CT scan and MRI. Using the images generated, the researchers were able to create a model that has the same size, texture and condition of the patient’s actual kidney.
Another use of this patient-specific soft tissue tumor model is to educate young doctors on how to operate and remove the tumor. Together with radiographic imaging, medical students are taught how to assess the condition, location and properties of the tumor.
With this technology, it is now possible for doctors to perform a “dry run” operation without touching the patient. This will improve their ability to perform the surgical procedures effectively.
The prospect of 3D printed human organs has been an exciting topic in the biomedical community for some time now. Although researchers haven’t yet managed to print and implant anything yet, they are making significant strides in tissue engineering that could one day lead to the printing of fully-functional organs for use by people.
A prime example of this is the pioneering work of Dr. Anthony Atala of the Wake Forest Institute for Regenerative Medicine. Popular Mechanics recently announced that Atala and his team successfully printed and sustained beating heart cells. Although the cells (called “tissue organoids”) don’t form an entire heart themselves, they can be assembled into larger functioning shapes.
The organoids were sustained in a medium that kept them at human body temperature, and could be manipulated with electrical and chemical stimuli to change beating patterns. The researchers were first able to develop the cells by genetically modifying human skin cells, changing them into induced pluripotent stem (IPS) cells. Dr. Atala and his team reprogrammed these cells into the beating organoids that measure .25 millimeters in diameter.
According to Ivy Mead, a graduate student at Wake Forest who worked on the project, ”The heart organoid beats because it contains specialized cardiac cells and because those cells are receiving the correct environmental cues.”
The ultimate goal of the project on beating heart cells is not to produce a fully functional organ in this case, nevertheless the research can help inform how 3D printed polymer-based tissues function, encouraging new methods of assembling human organs.
The research is just one small advancement in larger efforts by Atala and colleagues on tissue engineering. The team has already successfully implanted several lab-grown organs into human patients, including a vagina, bladder, and urethra.
An additional goal of the project, funded by the U.S. Defense Threat Reduction Agency and the Space and Naval Warfare Systems Center, is to develop organs that they can use to ethically test the human body’s response to pathogens and contagions such as Ebola or harmful gasses. The program is aptly called ‘Body-on-a-Chip.’
“Miniature lab-engineered organ-like hearts, lungs, livers, and blood vessels – linked together with a circulating blood substitute – will be used both to predict the effects of chemical and biologic agents and to test the effectiveness of potential treatments,” said Atala to Popular Mechanics.
While not all of Dr. Atala’s research involves 3D printing, it would seem that he is a person to watch in the biomedical 3D printing community, as he was also in the news for developing two new advancements in 3D bioprinting. The first, a 3D printer that could produce large organs such as kidneys and bladders, and the second, a new ink-jet technology to print skin cells for people suffering from serious burns, such as soldiers.
Photo Credits: 3Ders.org
The skin is the largest organ of the body and many researchers show interest on this particular organ as it serves as the body’s first line of defense against pathogens. The skin is made up of tissues that have a semi-permeable capacity. This means that it only allows certain substances in and keeps others out. The skin is considered as the most durable organ of the body that can withstand different types of elements. Cosmetic company L’ Oreal has teamed up with 3D printing company Organovo to create the first ever 3D printed skin.
The company teamed up such that each will contribute something to the technology. For instance, Organovo will provide the bioprinter while L’ Oreal will provide the skin cell technology. However, the latter will have exclusive rights to the 3D printed skin tissues which the company will use to develop, test, manufacture as well as evaluate the efficacy of their skin care products.
The creation of the 3D printed skin tissue will create a huge impact on the skin care industry. Conventionally, skin care companies test the efficacy as well as toxicity of their products on human or animal skin. This puts the health of the clinical subjects at risk especially for products that have never been tested before for toxicity. Aside from using the 3D printed skin to test skin care products, this technology has the potential to be used in skin-related surgical tests and studies.
It is interesting to take note that 3D printing has gone a very long way since it was used in developing medical innovations. Hopefully, researchers will be able to develop more 3D bioprinted organs aside from skin.
In the field where innovation can help save lives, 3D medical printing is a very promising technology that can empower healthcare providers and medical researchers. The use of 3D printing technology has been around since 1980, but has only recently been used in the field of medical science.
There are many established applications of 3D medical printing. It is commonly used to manufacture hearing aids. In fact, there are more than 10 million 3D printed hearing aids that have been produced and distributed worldwide. 3D printing is also used in creating dental implants. However, there is more to 3D printing than making hearing aids and dental implants. Recently, medical researchers and doctors have developed innovative new uses for 3D printing. This article will provide an in-depth discussion of these uses, specifically in surgical planning.
3D Printing of Orthopedic Implants
Osteotomies are among the most common orthopedic surgical procedures performed. This procedure corrects the deformities of the bone by cutting the bone and resetting it to a better position. This is performed on people who have misaligned joints. The osteotomy then reduces degeneration of the joints, further reducing pain and discomfort for the patient.
3D medical printing can be very beneficial in orthopedic cases. There are many surgical procedures that benefit from 3D printing. Probably the most useful applications involve 3D printing of implants. Orthopedic surgeries can now be performed using 3D modeling and creation of 3D printed osteotomy plates that can be easily and accurately implanted to the affected area. One of the breakthrough uses of 3D-printed osteotomy implants was produced by 4WEB Medical, where an internal bone fixation structure was created for patients suffering from deformities requiring Evans lengthening osteotomies and correction of hallux valgus and cotton opening wedge deformities.1 The new implant provides structural support to the affected part after the operation thus it can sustain the correct angle of the foot and ankle after the surgery.
3D Printing In Cardiac Surgery
Cardiac surgeries are one of the most complicated of all types of surgeries. The use of advanced imaging techniques and 3D printing during preoperative planning is very helpful in improving the result in some operations. The advantage of using a 3D model is that it allows surgeons to study structures inside the heart that are difficult to visualize with conventional 2D imaging.2
The use of 3D printing in cardiac surgery is uniquely beneficial for children because their hearts are small. Given this small size, conventional imaging makes it difficult for surgeons to determine the actual structure of a patient’s heart beforehand. It is often not possible to precisely diagnose structural abnormalities until surgery is already underway. While with 3D printing technology, even the tiniest of heart structures can be enlarged and studied in depth, eliminating a huge proportion of unexpected complications. Proper preoperative diagnosis and planning also reduces the length of the actual surgery.
Patients at the Children’s National Medical Center in Washington DC have benefited from 3D printing; when 3D printed models were used for preoperative planning prior to surgical correction of rare heart conditions.3 Doctors were able to create a 3D model of the patient's heart using hard and soft plastics. The exact replication of the structural abnormalities in the models allowed doctors to visualize and plan their surgeries in great detail before actually stepping into the operating room.
3D Printing In Brain Surgery
The main issue that makes brain surgery difficult is the fact that the brain is housed inside the hard and protective skull. Furthermore, the brain is very delicate, and a successful surgery requires exquisite care.
3D printing has improved brain surgery by aiding development of new and innovative surgical tools, and allowing creation of patient-specific models prior to surgical treatment. In China, doctors created a 3D printed model of a patient’s skull and brain to plan removal of a skull base tumor. The model created by Dr. Li Xuejun from the Xiangya Hospital, gave a clear and tangible representation of the patient’s brain tumor. Surgeons were able to plan and practice the precise path of surgery prior to the actual operation.4
3D printing can also be used to create customized tools for brain surgery. Mechanical engineer Eric Barth developed a tool using 3D printing for epilepsy surgery. A pneumatic drill was developed with a needle attached to it. The pneumatic drill makes it possible for doctors to perform a minimally invasive treatment for epilepsy. The benefit of using the 3D printer to make the pneumatic drill is its low cost; thus making this tool more accessible and available to many medical institutions.5
3D Printing In Lung Surgery
The type of surgery involving the lungs is called thoracic surgery. It encompasses the organs such as the heart, lungs and the thoracic vertebrae. Although 3D printing is often used to help doctors perform surgeries for the heart and brain, a groundbreaking procedure was developed by surgeons from Kyoto University involving lung transplant.6
The patient, suffering from interstitial pneumonia, required a new lung from a donor. The doctor needs to excise part of the healthy lung of the donor and transplant it into the patient. Conventional lung transplant requires the patient to wait for a donor to donate the entire lung. What makes this surgical procedure ground breaking is that the surgeons opted to perform the surgery by transplanting only the lower part of the donor’s lung, which is something that hasn’t been done before.
To help the surgeons during surgical planning, doctors used a 3D printer to create an accurate model of the chest cavity of the patient. The use of 3D printed models allowed the doctors to match the blood vessels and airways of the patient to the donor, thus contributing to the success of the operation.
3D Printing In Thoracic Vertebrae Surgery
Another surgical procedure that benefits from 3D printing is thoracic vertebra replacement. Doctors from the Zhejiang University School of Medicine in Hangzhou, China, conducted the surgical procedure on a patient with a rare bone tumor called an ossifying fibroma. The tumor was located on the spine and specifically affected the vertebrae.7
Surgery on the spine can be risky because removal of the tumor can leave the spine with less mechanical support, contributing to increased stress on the spine and accelerated degenerative arthritis. In most cases, patients who undergo this procedure may experience permanent damage on their vertebrae. Doctors used 3D printed models of the patient’s spine to determine the exact anatomy of the patient. Then the surgeons created customized 3D printed titanium implants to provide support to the spine to minimize deterioration after surgery. Titanium was used by surgeons because it is biologically inert and does not react with the immune system.
3D Printing In Kidney Surgery
Recently, doctors have used 3D printing to help treat patients suffering from cancer of the kidney. As presented at the Association of Urology Congress in Sweden, Japanese researchers were able to develop a 3D model of a kidney to simulate cancer surgery.8
Using a 3D printer that injects clear polymer material, doctors were able to create an accurate model of the kidney so that they can study the blood flow and detailed anatomy of the patient’s kidney. The model also allowed the surgeons to determine the margins of the tumor. The 3D printed model was made from transparent material, allowing doctors to easily see the blood vessels inside the kidney model. They based the 3D model from the 3D imaging created by CT scan and MRI.9
3D Printing In Hip Surgery
There are many medical accounts that have shown success of 3D printing in treating patients who need hip surgery. One of the successful uses of 3D printing in hip surgery was performed by surgeons from the Southampton University Hospital.10
Orthopedic surgeon Dr. Douglas Dunlop used 3D printing to create customized titanium screws that are more durable and can match the exact measurements of the patient’s hip. The procedure was very innovative as stem cell therapy was also used as adjuvant to the treatment. While the 3D printed titanium screws are used to keep the hips together, the stem cells can help regenerate bones thus helping the patient to walk again with ease.
3D Printing In Throat Surgery
Babies born with weak tracheas can benefit from 3D printing. Doctors from the University of Michigan fitted two babies who suffer from constant suffocation because they have weak tracheas—a condition called tracheobronchomalacia. The babies constantly need a ventilator to breathe. Conventional methods of treating babies with this condition can put the babies at extreme risk.
Biomedical engineer Dr. Scott Hollister, together with his team, created a splint to open the airway of the babies allowing them to breathe. Hollister used a 3D printer to create a bioresorbable scaffold, that is similar to a vacuum cleaner hose, which was surgically implanted to the chest of the babies to hold the trachea open.
Before the doctors performed the surgeries, 3D printed models of the wind pipes of the infant patients were created. The models give doctors the ability to study the windpipes preoperatively, and allowing them to determine the best location to surgically place the splints.
The doctors revolutionized the technique even further by creating the 3D printed splint using materials that can be broken down and absorbed by the body. This helps minimize the need for further surgical procedures to remove the splint, and also reduces the risk for infection and complications. Three weeks after the operation, the two babies were taken off the ventilator.11
The 3D printing technology has many benefits for surgical planning. This technology looks very promising and many innovations are reported each year that help doctors perform complex surgical procedures while reducing risk to patients and improving outcomes.
14WEB Medical Unveils 3D-Printed Osteotomy Truss System
2 3D-Imaging of cardiac structures using 3D heart models for planning in heart surgery: a preliminary study
3 Life-saving heart surgery explores a new dimension
4 3D Printers Assist With Brain Surgery
53D Printing Addresses Brain Surgery in a Novel Way
6First Ever Opposite Lung, Living Donor Lung Transplant Takes Place Thanks to 3D Printing
7 Chinese Student Receives First 3D Printed Thoracic Vertebrae Implant & the Surgery is a Success
8 Surgeons 3D Print a Cancerous Kidney Model To Simulate Surgery
9 Surgeons develop personalized 3-D printed kidney to simulate surgery prior to cancer operation
10 Patient has 3D-printed hip replacement in Southampton
11 Babies who couldn’t breathe fitted with revolutionary ‘throat splint’ - made on a 3D
Synthesizing smaller molecules to explore different compounds in the field of medicine and technology, as a whole, can offer immense potential. However, the problem of synthesizing molecules is that it is a time consuming process and not all researchers have access to molecule-synthesizing tools.
Recently, researchers from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute have simplified a way to manufacture small molecules from a common set of building blocks using specialized 3D printers for small molecules. Led by Martin Burke from the University of Illinois, they were able to create a small molecule synthesizer that comes with chemical connectors that can be linked to a building block using a standard chemical reaction. The researchers were able to make 14 small molecules from simple linear structures to more complicated and densely folded molecules.
Burke and his team took cues from nature in order to improve the process of synthesizing small molecules. By analyzing the small molecules, they were able to dissect the building blocks that were common. The building blocks were then catalogued and used to fashion small molecules with a customized 3D printer. Currently, Burke and his team are expanding the vision of being able to create thousands of useful molecules using only one simple 3D machine for small molecules.
If their plans come to fruition, they will be able to discover new molecules that can lead to the revolution in industrial as well as medical technology. All kinds of researchers from different industries will be able to create small molecules to help them revolutionize their field of study.
For doctors and scientists interested in sharing their 3D modeled research or building on the work of others, the National Institutes of Health’s 3D Print Exchange is the place to go. Since its launch in June of last year, the Exchange has help encourage collaboration in scientific discoveries and promoted STEM Education with the simple tool of information availability.
Information at Everyone’s Fingertips
The government-sponsored site contains models useful for scientists and doctors alike, such as bacteria, proteins, and body parts. They also offer modeling tutorials for students and educational material for teachers.
Digital models were in use for some time before the advent of 3D printing, but converting these models to a 3D printable format is actually a bit of a chore. As users add more files to the credible, verifiable Exchange, people can skip over these lengthy tasks and get right to business conducting research and even saving lives.
Darrel Hurt, a NIAID researcher and one of the developers of the site explains, “We created this website as kind of a way to have a YouTube-like experience, but instead of exchanging and sharing and commenting on and remixing videos … we are doing all of those same things with 3D-print files.”
For the first time ever, ready-to-print copies of the influenza virus, e. coli, and insulin molecule, among many others, are at the finger tips of the general public. That might not seem very useful when you first think of it, but the site has illustrated workflows and other resources to help novices build 3D printed models of all sorts of materials, including a lab microscope and a library of proteins and macromolecules.
Making the Impossible Possible
Since 3D printed devices tend to be less costly than the ordinary manufactured ones, science labs and classrooms can print their equipment straight from the library. This is especially important for people in developing countries where equipment and models are prohibitively expensive or impossible to acquire. Also, a community with just one 3D printer available will be able to easily print cheap prosthetics from the models available in the library.
Doctors seeking information on a rare medical condition can quickly and easily search the database for information instead of calling on experts in the field and waiting for a response, which might make the difference between life and death for a patient.
Finally, the simple ability to easily visualize a molecule or virus is bound to be a driving force in new scientific discoveries.
The initiative was pioneered by the National Institutes of Health’s National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID), the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute for Child Health and Human Development and the National Library of Medicine.
Photo Credits: ASBMBToday
3D printers are not only helpful in fixing anything broken in human patients but also on pets. Leading 3D printing company 3D Systems have developed a technology that can help disabled dogs get back on their feet.
The technology, dubbed as 3D printed metal orthopedic knee implants, is able to fabricate titanium implants for dogs to help veterinarians treat canine patients suffering from disability. With this technology, disabled dogs are able to walk and run freely again within as little as six weeks after the surgery.
This new technology effectively repairs all damages to the ligaments in disabled dogs. It can treat any types of damage caused by genetics, degeneration or trauma. The 3D implant is inserted to the lower leg of the dog to reorganize knee stability without needing to repair the damaged ligament.
The secret to this groundbreaking procedure relies on the manufacturing of customized titanium implants. The implants are customized according to the canine patient’s needs. This is to ensure rapid bone growth with less risk of infection.
This new system makes it easier for veterinarians to treat canine patients. Unlike traditional manufacturing of implants, the procedure is so complex that not all treatments are successful. With this technology, vets are able to create wide range of implant sizes that fits the dog’s limb as quickly and economically as possible.
This technology looks very promising and if made available to the public, it will be very helpful to many millions of dogs who are suffering from leg disabilities.
Orbital rim fractures refer to the injury around the outer edges of the eye socket. Such injuries are obtained by extreme force like in car accidents. This injury can lead to serious repercussions to the vision, blurry and double vision among many others is examples of which.
Small orbital rim fractures are treated with ice packs and antibiotics but these treatments no longer work for larger and more complicated fractures. Ophthalmologists need to resort to surgical procedures to treat patients suffering from this condition. However, the problem is that the eye socket of each patient is unique and finding the right implant for each patient presents a challenge to doctors–until today.
Doctors from the Hong Kong Polytechnic University are now using 3D printers to create models to improve the orbital implant surgery in order to reduce the risk of patients undergoing said surgery to treat orbital rim fracture. Dr. Louis Sze, one of the lead researchers in this study, noted that in order to create the 3D models, they need to get the patient’s X-ray and CT scan data to construct the orbital floor of the patient’s socket.
Using a biocompatible thermoplastic ejected by the Fortus 3D Production System, the researchers were able to print heat-resistant as well as biocompatible surgical parts that can be used as implants to fix the necessary structures of the orbital socket.
With this technology, it is now possible for people who suffer from orbital rim fracture to be able to get their sight back after their injuries.
Researchers at Sheffield’s Faculty of Engineering recently published a paper that points to a new way to use 3D printing technology to help repair damaged nerves. The breakthrough research is excellent news for people who suffer from nerve damage because of the complications and limitations of current methods.
Difficulties of Traditional Methods
Repairing nerve damage often requires surgical autographs to build a bridge between damaged nerves. Autographs are often difficult to come by, while patients also run the risk of adverse side effects from donor tissue. Even with successful procedures, patients may experience a loss of sensation in the damaged area. Needless to say, grafting nerve endings is very difficult, and as a result surgical attempts are not always successful in repairing the damage.
3D Printed Conduits
The new method involves a nerve guidance conduit (NGC), which are a series of tiny tubes that help guide nerve ends towards each other, allowing them to fuse and repair in a natural way. Using Computer Aided Design (CAD), researchers designed the conduits using laser direct writing, which is a method of 3D printing. Probably the best news about the new method of nerve repair is that the technology can be tailor-fitted for individual patients and adapted for use in other types of nerve damage. Traditional methods of bridging nerve damage do not carry this level of flexibility, so it’s sometimes impossible to repair certain types of injuries.
Although the method hasn’t been tested in humans yet, the engineers paired up with Sheffield’s Faculty of Medicine, Dentistry and Health, who developed a mouse model to measure nerve regrowth. Their study demonstrated that the conduits could repair nerves with up to 3 mm of injury gap over a 21 day period.
John Haycok, a professor of Bioengineering at Sheffield said, “"The advantage of 3D printing is that NGCs can be made to the precise shapes required by clinicians. We've shown that this works in animal models, so the next step is to take this technique towards the clinic.”
Polyethylene glycol, the material used to produce the conduits, has already been approved for clinical use, so hopefully it won’t be long before human trials can begin.
Dr. Frederik Claeyssens, a lecturer in Biomaterials said, ”Further work is already underway to investigate device manufacture using biodegradable materials, and also making devices that can work across larger injuries.”
Their research findings were first published in the Biomaterials research journal.
"Now we need to confirm that the devices work over larger gaps and address the regulatory requirements," says Fiona Boissonade, Professor of Neuroscience at Sheffield.
The future of regenerative medicine lies on the advancements of technologies such as 3D printing. Recently, 3D medical printing has led to the reproduction of cartilages, bones as well as other soft tissues. One of the leading countries when it comes to 3D medical printing is China. Scientists from the Xi’an Particle Cloud Advanced Materials Technology Co., Ltd. have successfully developed patented 3D printing process to create the biodegradable artificial bone structures. To create the bone structures, the researchers used advanced Filament Free Printing techniques in order to create scaffolds that can be implanted to the human body and encourage growth of bones from human cells.
To ensure the safety of the artificial body parts, the researchers have tested them by doing animal testing. The researchers announced that the rounds of animal testing were successful. Specifically, the researchers created a defect on the bottom part of a rabbit’s femur and implanted a 3D printed artificial bone to the area of concern to correct the defect. Researchers noticed that the new cells have regrown within 48 hours on the surface of the artificial bone which served as the scaffold. This exciting discovery suggests that 3D printer can be used for man-made replacement for the actual living bone.
With this promising research, it is no doubt that the 3D printing technology will go a long way when it comes to treating different bone deformities as well as bone health anomalies. Today, the Chinese researchers were successful in creating scaffolds for bone regrowth but they will eventually make different organs to treat patients suffering from different diseases.
Purpose of this blog: To create a forum where members of the 3D medical printing community can share problems, solutions and practical advice pertaining to all aspects of the 3D printing pipeline.
Featured problem: Setting up a new printer
Featured printer: Printrbot Metal Plus
Printing type: Fused deposition modeling
Theme: Don’t put the cart in front of the horse
Translation: don’t try to print before you’ve set up the printer
If you are at all like me, you are impatient. When your new printer arrives, you want to rip open the packaging, set the printer on the counter, plug it in and hit “print”. If this sounds like you, keep reading. This first blog is a cautionary tale.
Lesson 1: Make sure that your printer is properly calibrated.
1. Level, Level, Level
While the printer may come “pre-calibrated,” it is always a safe bet to double-check that nothing untoward has happened during shipment.
The printing bed needs to be level in relation to the path of the extruder, and therefore both the bed and the extruder railing should be checked and adjusted if not leveled. The more level you can get the print bed with respect to the extruder, the easier your life will be for all of the following steps. There are many reports of warped print beds on the internet; e.g. some of the printrbot simple models seem to have a dip in the center of the print bed. Using a straight edge rather than just a level may help you detect this type of issue. Getting that print bed straight by whatever means necessary is advised.
2. Determine your negative z-value, or get ready to throw out a lot of failed prints
You need to determine the optimal distance that the hot end of the extruder should be from the print bed when printing.
The number you are determining is the negative z value. Picking your negative z-value is sort of like Goldilocks and the 3 bears: If the negative Z value is too high, your print will look stringy. If the negative Z value is too low, your print will look smashed. So you want it Just Right.
To set the negative z value, you need to modify the G-code.
At this moment, let me digress for those not familiar with G-code. G-code is the language that the printing software uses to communicate with the printer. G-code is, in essence, directions given to the printer on how to drive the motors and turn the heaters on and off. This is akin to postscript for laser printers. Different slicing programs will create different g-code; some will do it better than others, depending on how optimized they are for a given printer, etc. This is also why some slicing programs may result in a faster print, based on more optimized/efficient g-code.
tip: always enter G code in CAPITAL LETTERS
For the Printrbot, you enter the G-code that assigns the negative z-value in Repetier. Go to the manual control tab on the right side of the screen, make sure your printer is connected and then type the following in the G-code line:
M501 (shows you what the current X, Y and Z offsets are; output on the bottom of screen)
M212 Z0 (The number you type after Z is the negative z value that you are assigning. Start with 0 and see where you land, then go negative in small increments e.g. -0.1 to move closer to the print bed, printing a simple object each time and seeing how it turns out. Positive numbers will move the extruder farther from the bed.)
3. Auto-level before every print.
Your printing software should instruct the printer to auto-level before any print. In addition to the basic leveling described in 1., there is an “auto leveling” check designed to determine if the print bed is tilted in any direction. Also referred to as “z probing”, this step is necessary because the quality and success of your print depends on any discrepancies in the distance between the hot end of the extruder and the print bed at a given location being accounted for.
This can be done by probing 3 locations on the print bed.
Don’t believe leveling the bed matters? Well, here are some problems that can arise from a poorly leveled bed:
-Initial print layer does not stick or parts are missing
-The hot end of the extruder scrapes the bed
-The extruder gathers up plastic from the first or second layer
So how does auto-leveling work?
-An auto-leveling probe (aka z end-stop sensor) defines the distance between the extruder hot end and the print bed at any given location.
The auto-leveling probe is to the right of the extruder and has an orange tip in the picture below.
The Printrbot Metal Plus has an “inductive sensor” that detects the print bed via conductivity from the aluminum bed. The theoretical beauty of this design is that the sensor tip can be positioned at a level higher than the tip of hot end of the extruder and thus will not drag through your printing surface the way a touch down sensor would. The potential pitfall is that things that change conductivity (i.e. adjacent metallic objects) may affect the sensor.
It is possible that your z end-stop sensor is faulty- if you are the unlucky soul that receives a malfunctioning sensor, you may be in for some hurt if your printer tries to jam the extruder into the table. Even if your sensor works, you may misjudge the distance from the extruder to the bed- for these reasons, be very close to an off switch or the plug when you are calibrating your negative z value. If the extruder is being jammed into the table, by all means, turn the printer off!
To auto-level before each print, you need to make sure that the printing software contains the autoleveling G-code and adds it to the beginning of any slicing G-code. You need to set up auto-leveling in each slicing/printing program you use. It does not translate between them.
The G code you use in Repetier is:
G28 X0 Y0
Below are some links to setting up auto-leveling in Repetier and Cura.
Setting up auto-leveling in Repetier on Mac: http://help.printrbot.com/Guide/Setting+Up+Your+Auto-Leveling+Probe+and+Your+First+Print+-+Mac/107
Setting up auto-leveling in Repetier on PC: http://www.repetier.com/documentation/repetier-firmware/z-probing/
Setting up auto-leveling with Cura: http://www.instructables.com/id/Use-Printrbots-Autoleveling-Probe-with-Cura/
Beware: Just because your printer auto-levels itself, it doesn’t necessarily mean it won’t plunge through the printer bed in a desperate attempt to follow your every command. In fact, the printrbot metal plus is NOT smart enough to know when to say no. When we accidentally told it to go down 10 mm in the z direction when it was at Z0, it did so, much to our horror (see picture below).
In the background of this picture, a hole in the stage marks the scene of an unfortunate z-axis accident.
In the foreground, the outline of an aorta that did not make it (foreshadowing for the next blog entry).
4. Just how accurate is your model?
You can check to make sure that the printer motors are appropriately calibrated- i.e. they actually travel the correct distance when told to do so. As described above, the printing software communicates with the printer (and thus the motors) using G-code. To make sure nothing is “lost in translation”, you need to make sure that when the software tells the printer head to move, say, 10 mm in the x-direction and 25 mm in the y-direction, the printer head appropriately translates that g-code into the correct movement.
There are 4 motors:
To check the calibration of the x, y and z motors, tell the printer to move 40 mm in the x axis and then measure to determine whether it is accurate. If you measure 40 mm, you are done. If not, you need to do some recalibration (see below). Do the same with the y axis and the z axis.
Appropriate calibration in the x, y and z axis matters a lot for medical modeling…you want to make sure you are creating accurate models!
To check the calibration of the extrusion motor, heat up the extruder to the recommended temperature for the filament. Use tape to mark a few cm up the filament and then measure from the tape to the entrance into the extruder. Tell the printer to extrude 10 mm of filament and measure again.
Rate of extrusion really matters: your printing software assumes it knows the accurate amount of material extruded per given time.
If too much is extruded, your print will have globs; if too little is extruded, you have holes or poor matrix
This is a great primer on motor calibration and how to fix errors: http://www.instructables.com/id/Calibrating-your-3D-printer-using-minimal-filament/
5. More advanced calibration/ “tweaking” to optimize your prints:
A 3D printing manufacturer who goes by “Ville” recently designed and published an STL test file that can be used to troubleshoot calibration issues with any printer. The print has several challenges, including various overhangs, small details, different sized holes and wall-thicknesses, bridging and different surfaces. The idea is that users can share problems and solutions with each other.
Read more at: http://3dprint.com/48922/3d-printer-calibrating-test/
Download this STL test file at: https://www.thingiverse.com/thing:704409
The top picture is what the test model should look like. The bottom picture is what my printer produced. Guess I have some tweaking to do....
In the next post, we will tackle one of the most infamous struggles in 3D printing- getting your model to stick to the print bed.
Until then, happy printing!
3D bioprinting has changed the field of medicine. Recently, 3D printing companies are successful in printing living human tissues; but one company that stands out, is using 3D printed algae to sustain bioprinted human cells.
Researchers from the Technische Universitat Dresden in Germany together with the Center for Translational Bone, Joint and Soft Tissue Research were able to create 3D printed algae to sustain their bioprinted human cells. The 3D printed algae are filled with hydrogel scaffolds to provide Oxygen to the cells.
To create the algae, they mixed alginate-based hydrogel to a type of algae called Chlamydomonas. The mixture was then placed inside a 3D printer cartridge and then deposited layer by layer on a platform. The layer of gel and algae was then incubated under light for several days to allow the algae to grow.
So how do the algae sustain life to bioprinted human organs? Bioprinted organs can be printed side by side with the 3D printed algae. Once incubated under light, the algae become green and it releases oxygen to its surrounding environment as it grows. Researchers noted that the present study successfully demonstrated the combination of bioprinted human cells and the algae scaffold. However, they still need to find solution to the problem regarding getting oxygen to all cells. Unfortunately, the algae scaffold does not provide oxygen to every cell within the scaffold.
Aside from sustaining bioprinted organs, researchers also see many uses for these 3D printed algae which include creation of healthier food products and safer cosmetics and pharmaceutical products. Moreover, it can also be a source of biofuel.