I went to a tiny liberal arts college in the middle of nowhere, with no bars within walking distance, so that meant that a lot of time was spent in my friends’ dorm rooms watching movies. As most of my friends were guys, those movies were most often terrible, dated cult horror films with laughable special effects and gratuitous, obviously fake violence. Special effects have come a long way since I graduated from college. Effects companies now have access to the kind of technology that allows murder and death to be disturbingly realistic (thanks for the nightmares, Game of Thrones). Much of this technology involves 3D printing, and, thanks to companies such as Fractured FX, it’s now being used for good as well as evil.You may remember Fractured FX from earlier this year, when they won an Emmy for their largely 3D printed special effects on the utterly terrifying American Horror Story. Now they have entered into a much more benign partnership with SIMPeds, the simulator program at Boston Children’s Hospital, to create realistic surgical models.
An increasing number of hospitals have been using 3D printing to create accurate replicas of patients’ organs so that surgeons can practice complex surgeries before the patient gets on the table. Most 3D printed replicas are extremely detailed and accurate as they’re modeled from the patients’ MRI scans, but Boston Children’s Hospital is taking it a step further. With help from Fractured FX, their surgical models will now bleed, pulsate, and otherwise feel completely realistic when doctors operate on them.
The partnership was announced yesterday at the hospital’s Global Pediatric Summit and Awards 2015, where they also displayed the first two models, designed for the surgical treatment of hydrocephalus and heart-lung bypass, respectively.
“This is the nexus of medicine and art, surgery and cinema,” said SIMPeds Director Peter Weinstock, MD, PhD. “Getting the look and feel right is very important, particularly to surgeons and proceduralists. To make simulations effective, you want to promote suspension of disbelief, to create an environment where everyone is believing that they’re working on a real child. Other simulators exist but their aesthetics and anatomy are fairly rudimentary, making it hard to keep people’s heads in the game. We’re excited to have these new simulators change that.”
The idea for the partnership was conceived by Weinstock, who saw Fractured FX’s work in the Cinemax medical drama The Knick and contacted them about a possible collaboration. Discussions between the two organizations began in 2014, and earlier this year, they began prototyping the first surgical models.
“A lot of us had aspirations in medicine, and have collaborated with prosthesiologists to help improve prosthetics artistically,” said Fractured FX CEO Justin Raleigh. “We wanted to take our skills in special effects to try and help people. We’ve had to come up with new techniques to develop the elements you’d see in surgery, something we never had to do for film. It’s been a really nice back and forth working with actual surgeons and getting their input and knowledge. We’ve been getting a crash course in surgery, and the SIMPeds engineers have come to our studio to learn about manufacturing techniques and how we process materials and make molds. It’s been very educational in both directions.”
Boston Children’s Hospital and Fractured FX hope to begin offering the models commercially to other hospitals and medical centers soon. With this partnership, special effects, so often used to convey death and destruction, are now moving into a new realm: preserving life. Let us know your thoughts on this partnership in the 3D Printed Medical Model forum thread on 3DPB.com.