“You can’t teach anatomy without bodies. Or at least you couldn’t until now,” says Monash University’s Paul McMenamin.
He and his colleagues are printing 3D plastic body parts of unprecedented detail and accuracy that have the potential to revolutionise anatomy teaching.
Anatomy students need a high degree of familiarity with the intricate details of the human body. That ideally comes with repeated handling and hands-on study. But students are often reluctant to touch a cadaver any more than necessary.
Removing the emotional, ethical and physical restrictions to close handling and repeated study improves the students’ familiarity with the human body. Another advantage of the printing is the expertly applied false colouring picking out intricate nerves, veins, arteries and ligaments that are much harder to identify in preserved cadavers.
As a robust, nonbiodegradable product, they’re also a big cost saver.
“Storage and transport of real human bodies is extremely expensive,” says Paul, who is Director of Monash’s Centre for Human Anatomy Education. “And in many countries, cultural or economic barriers mean human bodies aren’t available at all.”
The detail in the printed body parts is uncanny, taking many medical educators and researchers by surprise. In comparison, previous, simplified plastic body parts look like a child’s toys.
Replacement of broken or worn printed body parts is also straightforward, Paul explains.
“It’s a huge amount of work to create the original part—scanning the body parts, combining thousands of images and applying the colours. But once it’s done, it’s done. Creating copies is just a matter of pressing ‘print’.”