Just in time for Halloween (or for those of us who just have brains on our minds), New Zealand-based Brainform is up and running! While the company and its website are still in beta, a high quality 3D printed brain can be yours now.
The company’s mission is simply stated on its website:
We 3D print brains.
Brainform takes MRI scan files to custom-create accurate (albeit hollow, which hopefully isn’t too accurate) models of both hemispheres of the brain, though without the cerebellum or sub-cortical structures. The brains are available in full-scale and half-scale models with your choice of a white or matte grey stand, and can be displayed as a whole brain or as one hemisphere at a time.
Want a scan and don’t have one yet? Don’t worry, the company’s FAQ covers that. You can check out the website’s Research Hub to be connected to researchers seeking participants for studies that include an MRI. The Hub will eventually have research study information for the US, New Zealand, Australia, and the UK. Barring that approach, Brainform also suggests — in a cheeky tone in keeping with the rest of the site’s content — that going into the ER with serious injuries and headache complaints should get you your very own MRI pretty quickly.
For those among the millions who already have had MRIs done as a matter of course, a simple call to your own doctor should be able to get the DICOM file sent over from existing medical records.
Don’t have a scan of your brain handy and not really in the market to get one done? No problem; you can still get a brain to put on your desk, it just won’t be your personal wrinkle pattern. Stock brains are available, all made from MRI scans of actual people.
Once Brainform has the scan — either yours or the stock MRI — the real fun begins. Using the selective laser sintering (SLS) process, Brainform 3D prints the brain to precisely match the scan.
3D printed brains are a technological wonder, for sure; as a rule, if you’re seeing your own brain, it’s probably not about to end well for you. MRI technology allows for a complete mapping of the intricacies of this incredible human organ, but Brainform takes that even further by bringing the flat scan to life: for the first time, you can actually hold your own brain in your hands. Additive manufacturing allows for fully faithful replication of every brainy nook and cranny; the company also includes an info sheet with specific technical aspects of your brain that you might not otherwise know.
Brainform’s thorough FAQ covers all manner of topics, from the technical aspects covering how to obtain an MRI scan, to information about the SLS 3D printing process, to a basic cost analysis, but one of the standout Q-and-A entries is simple: Why would anybody want a 3D model of their brain? Multiple answers are provided, from geeky interest to education, but it boils down to one straightforward response:
“In offering these suggestions, perhaps the cool factor is enough. The brain is the most complex system that we know of in the universe, sculpted by millions of years of evolution. We think that a model of it affords more meaningful contemplation than most similarly priced art.”
Brains from the company are offered in full- and half-scale models like mentioned above. The models are exact replicas, though are printed hollow, rather than solid, to keep material costs down; this also means the corpus callosum is represented by a hole, rather than the bundle of nerves that connects your real brain’s two hemispheres. Brainform also opted to exclude the cerebellum from their models, as it doesn’t scan well (and reminded those at Brainform of certain other bits of anatomy that made them giggle). As the company works on their technology, all subcortical structures may soon be offered; anyone who really wants their cerebellum on their model now can email to discuss with their order.
At the end of the day, brains are pretty neat, but beyond just the geek factor, Brainform wants to expand science. The company hopes to eventaully include model brains among other scientific models in classrooms and other educational venues. $5 of each sale is donated to the Society for Science-Based Medicine, a non-profit promoting the understanding of strong evidence in medicine. Brains currently cost from $100 (for a half-scale stock brain) to $430 (full-scale model of your cortex); all prices are in US dollars, and the company ships all over the world. Have you had your brain printed? Let’s see how it turned out! Post in the Brainform forum thread on 3DPB.com.