3D printed anatomical models and learning simulators are providing new in-depth training opportunities to medical professionals all over the world. While these sorts of models were always available, certain training procedures never got their proper due until 3D printing came along. For example, up till now, the most common training for anaesthesiologists was on the field training. Although anaesthesia training simulators already exist, new 3D printing simulators are cheaper than traditionally manufactured ones, making them easier enough to distribute on a far wider basis.
The 3D printed “phantom” simulation models are the brainchild of a variety of medical professionals around the world. They teamed together to work on making them far cheaper and exploring new varieties of simulations. The research particularly deals with neuraxial anaesthesia application, which has a very steep learning curve. These models will help train students and practitioners for spinal and epidural relief.
The researchers are developing the new models free/libre/open-source (FLOS) software and creating them with unbelievable anatomical detail. Surprisingly, they’re using setups that are pretty familiar to the average 3D printing enthusiast, printing them out on desktop printers with PLA. Additionally, they are deriving the realistic models from CT scans of the lumbar spine, so they are very reliable.
It goes without saying that an anaesthesia training simulator needs to be very consistent with the human body. Neuraxial anaesthesia application relies on tactile feedback, supplemented with ultrasound imaging from before the procedure.
In forming the model, the researchers filled it with an echogenic solution of gelatin with psyllium fiber. They then heated and cooled the result multiple times and then staff performed the spinal procedure and put in an epidural. They even compared it to the traditionally manufactured phantoms and found the quality to be comparable.
The 3D printed phantom was not entirely without flaws though. It was a bit less realistic than the phantoms in terms of surface palpation due to how fragile the silicone was. That said, it displayed far more realism in terms of dural puncture, ultrasound imaging and loss of resistance. Not bad considering it only cost $13 to 3D print in 25 hours of non-supervised production. Additionally, it only took two hours to assemble. With a better silicone material, it may just become a viable alternative for the medical community.
Image retrieved from the Health Research Society of Canterbury.