Medical Advances

3D Printers Train Surgeons Outside the O.R.

3-D Printer Rib Cage Model

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Pediatric Fellows Practice With 3-D Models

When it comes to mastering tricky surgical procedures on tiny chest cavities, most pediatric surgeons get a lot of practice on the job. But now, a breakthrough training simulation using 3-D printers at Northwestern Medicine is taking the learning curve away from real life.

In collaboration with engineers from the Innovations Lab at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine and the McCormick School of Engineering and Applied Sciences, scientists led by Katherine Barsness, MD, associate professor in Surgery and Medical Education, have been creating life-sized, reusable newborn ribcage models to train pediatric surgeons.

3-D printers turn digital files into solid, anatomically correct replicas of an infant chest cavity that are then covered with synthetic skin and filled with tissue. Within the models, beginning surgeons can train on silicone organs from printed plaster molds; advanced surgeons operate on fetal bovine tissue surgically configured to mimic rare birth defects.

Safe Training for Rare Operations

Surgeons may encounter neonatal heart disorders only a few times a year, and practice allows them to improve their skills. In an effort to encourage education outside the operating rooms, Northwestern Medicine and Dr. Barsness host pediatric surgical training courses with these 3-D printed models for second-year fellows as well as practicing surgeons.

Training opportunities like those through the Northwestern Simulation facility provide safe situations to work on technique and are invaluable to pediatric care. According to Barsness, simulation-based training will eventually become the norm with additional investment in 3-D printing technology and dedicated time for surgical trainee training.

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