Researchers can now 3-D print lifelike artificial organ models to practice surgery

por Lauren Dubinsky, Senior Reporter | December 08, 2017
3D Printing
Is this the start of bionic organs?
Researchers at the University of Minnesota have brought the medical field one step closer to bionic organs for transplants.

They've found a way to 3-D print lifelike artificial organ models that surgeons can use to practice procedures.

"Based on the feedback from the collaborating surgeons, the models feel like the real thing," Dr. Kaiyan Qiu and Ghazaleh Haghiashtiani, lead authors of a study published in Advanced Materials Technologies, wrote to HCB News in an e-mail. "In addition, they mentioned that the models remained robust during suturing, they did not exhibit any tearing, and the surgical knot did not pull through."

One of those collaborating surgeons is Dr. Robert Sweet of the University of Washington. As a urologist, he was looking for more accurate 3-D-printed models of the prostate to practice surgeries.

The research team extracted patient-specific anatomical data from MR scans and tissue samples of three patients' prostates. They then developed silicone-based inks that can be manipulated to match the mechanical properties of each patient's prostate tissue.

The inks were used in the university's custom-built 3-D printer to create the models. The team then attached soft, 3-D-printed sensors to give surgeons real-time feedback on how much force they can apply during surgery without damaging the tissue.

"Since these models are fabricated based on patients' specific anatomical data, they can probably be used as a tool for diagnosis and preoperative planning and rehearsal for most surgical cases," the authors wrote.

They plan to use multiple inks to 3-D print lifelike models of more complicated organs with tumors or deformities. That would enable the surgeon to test different strategies for removing tumors or fixing complications.

The ability to replicate the function of tissues and organs is bringing us closer to the possibility of bionic organs, but a few things need to happen for that to be a reality. The authors explained that advanced compliant electronics such as sensing, actuating, and power generation modules, as well as smart functionalities are needed.

"[They] need to be directly integrated into the next-generation bionic organs to replicate actual functions of their biological counterparts," they added. "Further integration of cell-seeded structures and biocompatible materials into the creation of such models can pave the path for future organ transplants."

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