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Being a pioneer in any endeavor takes courage and determination, but it also requires leadership and vision. It’s a path a Florida children’s hospital is forging with its 3D printing capability, which is becoming an integral part of its medical simulation program. 3D printing for medical purposes isn’t new, but point-of-care use of this technology is still in its nascent stage, and this children’s hospital sees this as a vital instrument for providing better patient outcomes.
“In pediatrics, there’s always a higher level of complexity. Kids are born with very rare, unique, individualized diagnoses and complications, and 3D printing is kind of perfect for that.”
Medical Director for Center for Medical Simulation and Innovative Education at a Florida pediatric hospital
Craniosynostosis Prototype Model created using Bone Matrix and Tissue Matrix Material - Side View.
Craniosynostosis Prototype Model created using Bone Matrix and Tissue Matrix Material - Side View.

Elevating the realism of simulation.

The medical director of the Center for Medical Simulation and Innovative Education at the hospital is an avowed proponent of 3D printing and sees this technology as essential for helping support the program’s goals of research and education for the sake of improved care. “When I came here, this was part of my goal, to be able to utilize 3D printing as exactly that; a tool to help improve outcomes for patients and improve the education for clinicians.” To achieve that goal the hospital acquired a Stratasys J750™ Digital Anatomy™ 3D printer to augment its simulation center. The printer, combined with the Digital Anatomy software, is able to create incredibly realistic anatomical models. To achieve this level of realism, the Digital Anatomy printer makes use of several special materials designed to mimic human bone and tissue: BoneMatrix™, GelMatrix™ and TissueMatrix™. The software leverages these materials to enable over 100 sophisticated anatomical presets to produce models that demonstrate clinically validated realism in both feel and biomechanical performance.
Craniosynostosis Prototype Model created using Bone Matrix and Tissue Matrix Material - Rear/Overhead View.
Craniosynostosis Prototype Model created using Bone Matrix and Tissue Matrix Material - Rear/Overhead View.
A simulation engineer with the hospital’s Center for Medical Simulation and Innovative Education, who is responsible for working with the printer to create the models and training tools used for research and education, was impressed with the power of the Digital Anatomy printer, highlighting its advanced bone capabilities. He prepared skull and spine models for a physician-training workshop that allowed the doctors to practice cutting and drilling the bone models. The doctors’ feedback was that the models provided a very realistic simulation of working with real bone. “They were very impressed with the bone matrix material. They said it was definitely close to the real thing,” he says. Standard bone models made from plastic usually don’t provide the same hardness and resistance of real bone and are typically easier to cut into. “They were really surprised how difficult it was to drill into, it as it would be with actual bone,” he adds. This kind of training can be a boon for doctors training for complex and delicate procedures like spinal fusion. The simulation team stresses that looking at pictures or videos doesn’t have the same impact as a realistic simulation. “You have to know your site locations, where you can drill and where you cannot. It’s the physical landmarks that you’re getting used to. That’s the benefit of printing these models, so you can really practice your landmarks.” The medical director of the Center for Medical Simulation and Innovative Education reinforces that impact for special cases they see at their children’s hospital. “In pediatrics, there’s always a higher level of complexity. Kids are born with very rare, unique, individualized diagnoses and complications, and 3D printing is kind of perfect for that,” she says. “Now with this printer, because it does soft and hard materials, I can make skin and soft tissue and bones, and I can potentially create a trainer so that our fellows don’t have to perform the procedure for the first time on a tiny 500 gram (17 ounce) baby.”
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