News Feature | July 15, 2014

World's First 3D Printed 'Cadaver' Could Revolutionize Medical Education

By Joel Lindsey


Researchers at Australia’s Monash University have created what they say is the world’s first complete and accurate kit of human anatomical parts — produced entirely by 3D printing.

“For centuries cadavers bequested to medical schools have been used to teach students about human anatomy, a practice that continues today. However many medical schools report either a shortage of cadavers, or find their handling and storage too expensive as a result of strict regulations governing where cadavers can be dissected,” Paul McMenamin, director of Monash University’s Center for Human Anatomy Education and lead researcher on the project, said in a press release published recently on the school’s website.

“Without the ability to look inside the body and see the muscles, tendons, ligaments, and blood vessels, it’s incredibly hard for students to understand human anatomy,” he said. “We believe our version, which looks just like the real thing, will make a huge difference.”

To create the kit, researchers used real anatomical samples to generate a series of detailed images with either CT scans or surface laser scanners. These images then became the models for the final products, which were 3D printed using either a plaster-like powder or plastic.

“Radiographic imaging, such as CT, is a really sophisticated means of capturing information in very thin layers, almost like the pages of a book,” McMenamin said. “By taking this data and making a 3D rendered model we can then colour that model and convert that to a file format that the 3D printer uses to recreate, layer by layer, a three-dimensional body part to scale.”

McMenamin and other researchers say that the kits could be particularly helpful in developing countries where obtaining and storing real cadavers can be too expensive, or in places where the use of human cadavers for medical training is culturally or religiously unacceptable.

“Even when cadavers are available, they’re often in short supply, are expensive and they can smell a bit unpleasant because of the embalming process. As a result some people don’t feel that comfortable working with them,” said McMenamin. “Our 3D printed series can be produced quickly and easily, and unlike cadavers they won’t deteriorate — so they are a cost-effective option too.”

Details regarding the project have been published recently in the journal Anatomical Sciences Education.

The research team is currently working with possible commercial partners to help move the kits to market, according to the press release.

Image Credit: Anatomical Sciences Education