Mohawk 3D Printing Group – Medical Phantom Project
Our ambitious goal is to design a 3D printer capable of producing viable medical phantoms, that is, artificial body parts or models that can be used for medical testing.
Medical phantoms are used to practice complex surgical procedures, test and calibrate the performance of imaging devices, fine tune radiation therapy treatment plans prior to their actual implementation, and more.
3D-printed models are already beginning to be used in healthcare. Surgeons at IWK Health Centre in Halifax, for example, are using 3D-printed models of hearts to get a better look at congenital heart disease in children and rehearse surgeries.
Our group seeks to advance this technology by designing a multi-extrusion printer that can print three different materials: synthetic flesh, bone, and organ material. A single printer that can print these three materials will be able to produce many types of medical phantoms, including custom phantoms to meet specific patient/provider needs.
This idea is achievable, if not by us then by somebody else. We believe that 3D printing is the future of medical phantom manufacturing. Our project is sustainable (in the sense of economic viability) because it is open source and not-for-profit; we are not in competition or in a race with other players in this area but are seeking to support other players and advance 3D health technology as a whole; as such, we will consider even a partial success of our ambitious goal to be a successful project if another enterprise can build on what we achieve. The project is original in that no such printer currently exists, although to reiterate we believe this is the future trajectory of medical modeling and there are certainly other players working in this area.
The Mohawk 3D Printing Group has been in existence for approximately four months. In that time we have:
• Determined project scope, parameters, goals, and milestones
• Created an organizational structure and divided up tasks
• Determined general printer design
• Conducted considerable research into materials, including reading academic journal articles and performing hands-on testing
• Secured limited initial funding from Mohawk College’s School of Engineering Technology
• Determined best candidates for microcontroller boards and begun initial testing
• Produced an initial phantom using already-existing printers, a model of finger composed of synthetic flesh and bone
The benefits of 3D-printed medical phantoms include affordable customization, accuracy and consistency, flexibility and speed, and portability.
Custom medical phantoms (designed for a specific patient’s need) are typically hand made and are often prohibitively expensive. Generic medical phantoms are mass-produced, and even though they are not custom-made they are still quite costly. A custom 3D-printed medical model would cost much less than a custom hand-made model. This would reduce healthcare costs per patient and make it cost effective for medical phantoms to be produced more frequently, thus helping more patients.
Custom phantoms produced by a 3D printer from a scan or medical imaging are likely to be more consistently accurate than those produced by hand.
3D-printed medical phantoms would be produced faster that current methods, speeding patient care. Increased speed and decreased cost would result in increased flexibility, for example using phantoms in scenarios that are not currently cost effective or time effective. If healthcare providers are able to produce their own medical models with a 3D printer, they are likely to find new and innovative ways to incorporate such models into the care they provide.
Portability is another aspect of flexibility. On-site production of medical phantoms will enable them to be used in situations where they’re not currently viable, such as in very remote communities.
Our goal is measurable: we aim to produce a multi-extrusion (three-material) printer that can produce viable medical phantoms and that is our yard stick; if our research can help another player produce such a printer, or nudge 3D health technology forward as a whole, we would also consider these a success. Our project has a high likelihood of success precisely because our goals are scalable; we’re not envisioning this as a ‘winner take all’ or ‘all or nothing’ endeavour.
In the short-to-medium term, we aim to present our findings to date – hopefully a working prototype! – at the 3D For Health conference held at Mohawk in October 2017 and ultimately publish our research findings in an academic journal.