Inside Rensselaer: Manufacturing Spare Body Parts for Surgeons To Practice On Before Tricky Procedures

Imagine this: A soldier with a gunshot wound arrives in a battleground hospital and undergoes X-rays and CT scans to determine the full extent of the damage. The attending surgeon inputs the scans into a computer, which uses the data to create an ultra-realistic 3-D model of the injury site. The surgeon then hits “print” and within a few minutes is holding a near-perfect, full-size replica of the injured area—whether it’s a shoulder, a thigh, a head, or an internal organ. 

The surgeon performs a practice surgery on the model, to determine the best strategy and technique for extracting the bullet and stabilizing the wound. Every element of the model—the bone, the muscle, the connective tissue, the skin, and even the bullet—is highly realistic. Perhaps more importantly, the model also feels realistic. To the surgeon’s hands, using a scalpel to cut the model’s skin or muscle feels nearly identical to the real thing. After one or two trial runs on printed models, with better knowledge for how the procedure will look and feel, the surgeon performs the operation on the human patient.

Sandipan Mishra and Johnson Samuel, both assistant professors in the Department of Mechanical, Aerospace, and Nuclear Engineering, are using advanced manufacturing research techniques to turn this vision into reality.

 

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