Like the Real Thing: 3D Printed Organs

From Minnesota Alumni Magazine Spring 2018

By Elizabeth Foy Larsen

Sp2018_3DPrintedOrgans_Inline1 Imagine being able to practice a surgical technique on an exact replica of the organ you will be repairing. That scenario is now closer to reality, thanks to a team of researchers led by University of Minnesota faculty, who have discovered how to combine 3D printing and integrated soft sensors to create lifelike artificial models that mimic not just the anatomical structure and mechanical properties of real organs but also their look and feel.

Currently, most 3D printed organ models are made using hard plastics or rubberlike materials, which are often too rigid to cut or suture. For this study, the research team took MRI scans and tissue samples from three patients’ prostates. Then they tested the tissue and developed customized siliconebased inks, which can be calibrated to precisely match the mechanical properties of each patient’s prostate tissue. These inks are then used in a custom-built 3D printer to create the models.

In the future, researchers hope to use this new method to 3D-print models of more complicated organs, including those with tumors. Surgeons would be able to use these patient-specific models to test different techniques for removing tumors or correcting complications.

The use of hyper-lifelike models for “advanced surgical rehearsals” could help reduce medical errors, the third leading cause of death in the United States. “We think these organ models could be game changers for helping surgeons better plan and practice for surgery,” said lead researcher Michael McAlpine, an associate professor of mechanical engineering in the College of Science and Engineering.

The research was published in the journal Advanced Materials Technologies in December; researchers are submitting a patent on the technology.

Image Credit: McAlpine Research Group

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