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U of M 3D printing tech changes surgical outcomes

Mechanical engineers at the University of Minnesota have patented a new technology that will give doctors a more realistic way to prepare for, and practice for, surgery.

Mechanical engineers at the University of Minnesota have been busy 3D printing something that could change the way doctors learn about and prepare for surgeries.

"It's a lifelike prostate model, which gives electronic feedback," said Michael McAlpine, associate professor of mechanical engineering at the U of M.

McAlpine and his team are making patient specific, 3D models of the prostate by analyzing MRI scans and tissue samples.

"We take that tissue, we do mechanical tests on it in order to figure out the properties of the prostate tissue and then we develop our own inks for our 3D printer, which we custom build," McAlpine said. "The ink allows us to build, a prostate model, which feels exactly like the prostate itself."

That printer, and ink are now part of a patented process that goes beyond current technology associated with medical models printed with rubber or hard materials.

"With our 3D printed prostate models, the surgeon can take this, they can suture it, they can cut into it, it gives a real time electronic feedback," McAlpine said.

That feedback is possible thanks to sensors that are embedded during the printing process. They provide feedback on the pressure that a surgeon applies when working on the model.

"Medical errors are actually a leading cause of death now, so what we would like to do is create a realistic model that surgeons can practice on," McAlpine said. "All in order to reduce medical error."
Some UofM surgeons are already utilizing the new models, and there are more models on the way.

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