3D-Printed baby skeletons could help surgeons-in-training

'We could potentially create realistic patients models of other body parts to strengthen medical training for emergency procedures and pregnancies.'

Creating realistic mannequins for medical training is difficult, especially when we are talking about tiny babies. Mark Thielen, a PhD candidate at the department of Industrial Design, has created a prototype infant mannequin with realistic bones and organs - including a 3D printed heart with functioning valves and lungs that can inflate and deflate to mimic real ones. "Without 3D printing, this work would have been impossible" Mark says.

The mannequin has two key components - a rib cage with a spine that houses the internal organs. To find the right material to model a babies internal structures, Mark tested 15 different structures to find out their properties under stress. He worked with 3D printing company 3D Hubs to make the internal organs using thermoplastic elastomer (TPE) and rubber. He used PolyJet 3D printing to create molds because they can be rapidly changed if needed and can successfully print the small details on the organs. He hopes that his technology will help train the next generation of medical professionals to become even better surgeons and nurses.