3D Printing of Anatomy Kits and R&D Tax Credits

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Resources for medical education rely on key elements which are not always readily available for a variety of reasons including but not limited to, ethical, legal, and cultural. Currently, there are constraints in regards to acquiring parts of the human body which can cause dilemmas for medical researchers and educators. However, with the advent of new technologies, solutions now exist to address these concerns. Among these includes 3D printing prototypes of anatomy kits used for medical studies.

Medical schools are facing challenges associated with the need to replace cadavers with 3D printed bodies for student research studies. It is both difficult and costly to not only acquire the human bodies, but to preserve and maintain them as well.

The Research & Development Tax Credit

Enacted in 1981, the federal Research and Development (R&D) Tax Credit allows a credit of up to 13% of eligible spending for new and improved products and processes. Qualified research must meet the following four criteria:

  • New or improved products, processes, or software
  • Technological in nature
  • Elimination of uncertainty
  • Process of experimentation

Eligible costs include employee wages, cost of supplies, cost of testing, contract research expenses, and costs associated with developing a patent.  On December 18, 2015, President Obama signed the bill making the R&D Tax Credit permanent. Beginning in 2016, the R&D credit can be used to offset Alternative Minimum tax and start-up businesses can utilize the credit against payroll taxes.

3D Printing vs. Cadaver Advantage

3D printing human bones is highly beneficial as bones are a hard tissue and therefore are easily able to be reproduced with high levels of accuracy, preserving both visual and haptic values of the real tissue. It is also a complex process to obtain bones for a permanent collection as there are ethical and legal constraints. Moreover, this eliminates complexities related to obtaining bones for a permanent collection, primarily due to ethical and legal constraints. The high-quality 3D printed replicas of human cadavers were recently produced for teaching purposes. A group of educators from several universities in the field of bio-medical education, two of which include Macquarie University and Western Sydney University, managed this process. As a result it was found that the 3D printed cadavers actually demonstrated more detail than a real-life preserved human body, as students and teachers were able to analyze the small elements such as the cavities of the sinuses and the ventricles of the brain. The evolution of 3D printing will continue to improve the field of medical education as it is increasingly more cost-effective, in addition to providing beneficial anatomical structures.

Another university that uses 3D printed replicas is Monash University, located in Melbourne, Australia. There is a kit available for realistic, full color body parts produced by a 3D printer. Not only do the 3D printers make a durable, accurate, and cost-effective printed cadaver, but Monash University replicates the colors as well and codes vessels in red or blue and nerves in yellow to use as an educational tool for teaching. Monash University predicted that the use of these 3D printed cadavers is also beneficial for practicing doctors and medical students. Director of the Centre for Human Anatomy Education Paul McMenamin recalls that the ability to look inside the body and see the muscles, tendons, ligaments, and blood vessels makes a huge difference when students are learning the basic anatomy of the human body.

Professor Paul McMenamin with a 3D printed anatomy kit. [Image: Bryan Petts-Jones]

There have been some re-constructional efforts taking place in medical schools in various sectors of society. For instance, a few Liberian doctors at the University of Liberia Dogliotti Medical School aided in re-constructional efforts in one of their medical universities. From 1980 until 2003, Liberia was involved in civil wars which severely disrupted the health and educational services. Equipment was stolen from the medical school and buildings were damaged. Prior to the 1990s, the medical school had no seating facilities and most of the classrooms had little to no chairs. The laboratories were almost empty with no microscopes. The only source of running water was the hand pump that was installed on the campus by a non-governmental organization. The civil war heavily impacted the health care system in Liberia. Since 2007, grants from the World Bank and other donations have built up the medical school. With re-building efforts, the medical school has improved their facilities and consequently the work environment for students and teachers. The University of Liberia Dogliotti Medical School realized that using a 3D printed cadaver would help a university in need and results show that it changed the lives of many in Sierra Leone.

Ecommerce for Anatomy Kits

Cadavers that are 3D printed in the market are a logical progression for the medical community. Digital images are designed online and provided for download and then printed on demand and mailed to the consumer.  A German anatomical model maker, Erler-Zimmer, creates cadavers available for purchase online. There are also 3D printed medical kits for medical students, available at their disposal online, that are more practical and in useful ways. These anatomy kits provide medical students with the necessary tools for studying the human anatomy. The kits, unlike the cadavers which are already in short supply, provide cost effective pieces of the human body which are readily available and used for study.

Avoiding Formaldehyde

In the medical industry, 3D printing provides customization in medical products and equipment.

Normally, there is some maintenance required when preserving a human body for medical study. This includes treating the cadaver with special chemicals, often with the chemical formaldehyde, a process commonly known as embalming. However, formaldehyde may become more regulated as prolonged exposure to the gas can cause adverse health effects, some of which include irritation of skin, eyes, nose, and throats and in more severe cases, cancer. High resolution 3D printed anatomy kits with accurate color representation can be produced quickly and easily without any of the aforementioned health effects.


3D printed anatomy kits have been revolutionizing the study of medical cadavers in universities everywhere. In addition to being expensive to store and maintain, there is a shortage of cadavers which makes anatomy kits highly beneficial for medical studies. Today, commercial research labs and other medical facilities engaging in research and development of 3D printed cadavers are eligible for federal and state R&D tax credits.


Charles R. Goulding and Alizé Margulis of R&D Tax Savers discuss 3D printed anatomy kits.


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