Brain surgery is intricate, high-stakes work. So mastering it on a real, live patient, with an attending physician breathing down your neck and watching your every move, certainly can't be easy. Enter the 3D-printing industry, which has already played a major role in medicine, from churning out noses and eyeballs and blood vessels to developing a pen that could potentially draw bone in real-time.
Doctors at the University of Malaya in Kuala Lumpur have conjured up a 3D-printed skull that has different layers for the skin, bone and membranes that make up a human brain. The latest 3D printing technology has allowed researchers to tailor the feel and texture of each layer, yielding a proxy brain that's pretty darn close to the real thing.
Students can use these makeshift skulls to practice extracting a tumour fully or to learn how to drill into the skull with the right amount of force — skills they couldn't learn with older skull models, which used homogenous materials. The models can also be customised, harnessing a real patient's brain makeup to serve as a simulation for specific surgeries. A tumour, for example, was recreated by feeding plastic into an existing brain cavity, which was itself constructed from the actual brain scans of a patient.
So what's next? The team has already started making models that mimic the ebb and flow of blood and brain fluids. And at $US600, this is certainly a good option for doctors who'd like their trainees to go through the motions in a safe space, before stepping into the bright lights, high stakes and live brains of the operating room. [New Scientist]