CBMTI Makes Big Strides in Neurosurgery with 3D Printed Training Simulators


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65367_logo_0_53292There are many today who are considered true pioneers in 3D printing, with companies like Stratasys at the very forefront. No doubt the title fits many manufacturers and innovators, but there are pioneers on another level as well, with that realm belonging to the engineers, scientists, and medical professionals out in the real world, building on the innovations and technology available, and actually using it—sometimes by trial and error. And in the medical profession especially, surgeons using 3D printed models or guides to navigate through complex surgeries that could not have been dreamed of previously, are pioneers—and to their patients, downright rock stars.

From the latest in spinal surgery with 3D printed implants to advanced 3D imaging in heart bypass surgery, we are indeed seeing everyone working on the cutting edge—from the manufacturers and innovators to the surgeons responsible for making it all come together for the patient. Now, more pioneering efforts are underway at the University of Malaya’s Centre for Biomedical and Technology Integration (CBMTI) as they use complex 3D printed surgical models to train neurosurgeons. A wonderful benefit of new technology, this means that doctors at CBMTI aren’t practicing on cadavers or rudimentary training devices anymore—and that’s a plus being felt at hospitals and medical schools around the world today.


The Stratasys J750 3D printer has been instrumental in the progress at CBMTI.

In a recent blog by Stratasys explaining the new program, they describe 3D printing as making a profound difference at CBMTI. Allowing for a variety of innovation and new services, at CBMTI they use Stratasys’ PolyJet 3D Printing technology, including the J750 multi-material 3D printer introduced just a few months ago. So far they are creating:

  • Custom medical implants
  • Prototypes for new devices
  • Patient-specific medical guides

And while all of these items are incredibly important and offering great progress in medicine, the Stratasys team points out that what may be most important of all are the new 3D printed training simulators which allow doctors the most realistic form of training yet—something that today can be crucial for an intense new procedure.

“We were one of the first groups that pioneered the use of 3D printing for training in neurosurgery,” explained Vicknes Waran, MD, director of CBMTI. “When we first started to develop our models, we only had printers that could print in a single material. The problem with that was we had difficulties mimicking skin and bone and cartilage, and mucous membranes and tumors, for instance.”


“Once we got hold of a Stratasys multi-material 3D printer, we were then able to 3D print models which could mimic, for instance, the texture of the nose, the linings of the nose, as well as the more firm and harder tissues at the back of the nose. And this we found this very useful, especially when we were wanting to teach our trainees how to handle various tissues,” said Dr. Waran.

Backing up to the opening of CBMTI in 2012 as the University of Malaya created the center to encourage innovation, surgeons were relegated to practicing procedures on samples from the morgue, mentoring on live human cases, and relying on computer simulations. With the 3D printing technology from Stratasys, they are now able to make models that are true imitations of the human form and parts—and that includes tumors. They have even found ways to use support materials for ‘enhancing clinical realism.’


Dr. Waran

With such flexibility in usage of materials and textures, CBMTI is able to offer a type of training that not only gives surgeons a leg up in new procedures, but more importantly, the patients are offered even better care. And that includes procedures that may previously never have been performed. They aren’t limited to using one 3D printer either:

“The J750 allows us to create models with both texture and color variations that mimic actual tissue handling and appearance better for these complex models,” said Dr. Waran. “With the Connex, we can simulate realistic layers of human tissue like skin, bone, dura, brain and tumors within the 3D printed medical model for surgical simulations.”

sixThe programs at CBMTI have become as highly developed as the technology itself. Training courses are created as leaders in numerous fields and disciplines consult, and together they are able to pinpoint which patients have the anatomy and condition they would like to train physicians in treating. After that, they are able to, without putting the patient through any undue stress or discomfort, use their data from CTs and MRIs and convert it into the eventual 3D models. In this advanced system, however, they even select materials that match up in terms of color and texture.

“We have also incorporated features such as fluid dynamics so we can simulate endoscopic neurosurgical procedures,” said Yuwaraj Kumar Balakrishnan, CBMTI chief operations officer. “We find surgeons who train on these models are much better prepared in terms of dealing with complex surgeries, simply because they are able to train and retrain on the models until they perfect the procedure.”

It certainly makes sense—and I think I would certainly feel better knowing my surgeon had the chance to practice with such complex, realistic guides. Not surprisingly, CBMTI reports that due to the installation of the Stratasys 3D printers, they’ve seen production capacity increased by up to 40 percent.five

“Researchers’ interest in our 3D printed models has increased a hundredfold since we began using these 3D printers,” said Balakrishnan. “Stratasys 3D printers are the ideal platform for innovation.”

Currently they have 20 medical clinicians, rapid-prototyping engineers, computer programmers, and electrical engineers all working with their new technology. With the Stratasys 3D printers, they are able to create research prototypes, devices like titanium implants, make the new, customized 3D printed simulators that allow doctors so much latitude in preparing for procedures, and receive a close-up view at the patient’s condition, allowing for diagnosing and treatment as well. What are your thoughts on these new training methods? Let’s discuss over in the CMBTI Uses Stratsys 3D Printers for Training Models forum over at 3DPB.com.

[Source / Images from Video: Stratasys]

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