Can a New 3D Printed Trachea Model Redefine Medical Training? If It Functions Like a Real One, It Just Might

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Changing the game in medical simulation is no small feat, but a new startup is carving out a fresh space with a 3D printed trachea model. New Zealand newcomer Simpath wants to redefine how surgeons do airway management training.

Simpath’s 3D printed trachea model

Simpath’s pioneering new application takes respiratory care training to the next level. Its 3D printed trachea model is both realistic and interactive, two essential qualities for training surgeons. The startup stands out as the only company commercializing this approach to 3D printed airway models.

Founded by designers Bernard Guy and Nicole Hone and specialist anesthetists Jeremy Young and James Broadbent from Wellington Hospital in New Zealand, this project is at the forefront of 3D printing in medical education.

According to Young and Broadbent, the intricacies of the human airway pose significant challenges for clinicians, especially those mastering surgical techniques in respiratory care. Traditional models have failed to provide the necessary realism and interactivity. Simpath’s new dynamic 3D printed trachea model addresses these shortcomings with remarkable precision.

Simpath’s 3D printed trachea model

“Our design introduces dynamic pathologies and operable features that revolutionize airway management training,” Guy, who is also a Victoria University of Wellington lecturer, explains to “Unlike static models, this 3D printed trachea emulates complex internal abnormalities and dynamic activities such as inflation, constriction, bleeding, and arterial pulsations. These features provide an immersive and interactive simulation experience, essential for developing advanced surgical skills.”

3D printed trachea used for training

One of the standout features of Simpath’s airway model is its ability to simulate real-life scenarios. For example, practitioners can pump fluid through a tiny hole in the trachea wall to simulate active bleeding from a tumor. This hands-on approach allows users to practice managing complex emergencies, boosting their observational and operational skills.

The model also facilitates precise surgical practice. Users can create fluid-filled cysts, make incisions, and suction the contents, providing a super realistic experience that static models simply cannot offer. Additionally, the model can simulate tracheal stenosis, a condition where the trachea narrows and restricts airflow, by inflating the interior walls to create a narrow channel.

“Simpath’s dynamic 3D printed airway model is an ethical alternative for surgical practice,” says Hone, a 4D printing frontrunner. “Traditional training methods often rely on animal models or cadavers, which come with ethical and logistical challenges. Instead, our 3D printed model provides a humane and practical solution, ensuring practitioners can train in a controlled and repeatable environment.”

Developed from CT scans, the team uses multi-material PolyJet printing to achieve lifelike textures, from flesh to cartilage. The dynamic movements are produced by injecting air or saline through Luer Lock attachments, which are standardized fittings that ensure secure and leak-free connections. This adds to the model’s realism, closely mimicking human anatomy and providing valuable tactile feedback crucial for training.

The development of this innovative model is the result of a collaborative effort between clinicians and industrial designers. Guy, along with anesthetists Young and Broadbent, have been instrumental in refining the design. Their combined expertise has led to a high-fidelity model that stands out in its field.

Anesthetists James Broadbent and Jeremy Young test Simpath’s 3D printed trachea model

Anesthesiologists are crucial for testing 3D printed airways because they specialize in airway management during surgeries and emergencies. Their deep understanding of the anatomy and physiology of the airway, combined with skills in intubation and ventilation, make them the perfect candidates to evaluate these models. Simulating real-life conditions, such as “can’t intubate, can’t oxygenate” (CICO) scenarios—which are critical and life-threatening—allows anesthesiologists to boost their skills in a controlled setting. What’s more, their feedback is vital in refining these models to ensure they meet clinical needs and improve patient outcomes, making them the perfect reference for this type of application.

Anesthetists James Broadbent and Jeremy Young want to use Simpath’s 3D printed trachea model for training

Young’s journey with 3D printing tracheas began in 2014. Dissatisfied with the low-fidelity models available at the time, he began exploring the potential of 3D printing for more realistic and interactive options. After years of research and collaboration, the team has created a model that not only meets but exceeds the needs of modern medical training.

Simpath’s dynamic airway model is already making waves in medical simulation centers. It has been used in various training scenarios, helping practitioners understand the complexities of the human airway and improve their surgical skills. The model’s ability to simulate different pathologies and conditions makes it an invaluable tool for both training and patient education.

Looking ahead, the team at Simpath is exploring more applications. They are considering the development of a 3D printed larynx with moving vocal cords and a trachea with removable segments for cost-effective simulation. These advances will continue to push the boundaries of what is possible in medical simulation and training tools.

By combining clinical expertise with 3D printed design, the team at Simpath has created a new tool for healthcare. A model that could transform how clinicians train for airway management, providing an ethical, practical, and highly effective solution for modern medical education.

As the technology continues to evolve, the potential applications for Simpath’s models are vast. From improving surgical training to upgrading patient education, these 3D printed models are paving the way for a new era in medical simulation.

All images and videos courtesy of Simpath.

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