‘Lifelike’ 3D printed bones to help train spinal surgeons

Researchers are 3D printing replica human vertebrae which act and feel like real bone tissue to help train spinal surgeons before they go into live operations.

Video Icon
3D printing model spines
3D printing model spines

Researchers are 3D printing replica human vertebrae which act and feel like real bone tissue to help train spinal surgeons before they go into live operations.

A project led by Nottingham Trent University aims to give trainee surgeons the “tacit knowledge” of how it feels to partly remove or drill into vertebrae before undertaking procedures on patients.

The models – which are created using powder printing technology to help achieve a lifelike porosity of real bone - feature hard outer layers and a softer centre.

“Consultants undertaking delicate and precise procedures like spinal surgery need as much knowledge and experience as possible as part of their surgical training before going into live operations,” said Professor Philip Breedon, of the university’s Design for Health and Wellbeing Group.

“One error can lead to catastrophic, life-changing consequences for a patient, so it’s imperative that surgeons can prepare themselves thoroughly.

“This research will enable clinicians to experience how performing spinal surgery feels both physically and mentally, but in a safe training environment.”

The project is in collaboration with consultant spinal surgeon Professor Bronek Boszczyk, of Nottingham University Hospitals Trust, who is a visiting professor at Nottingham Trent University.

The models are aimed at surgeons looking to perform procedures such as laminectomies, to relieve trapped nerves, which can involve the removal of bone tissue.

Individual models can also be created from CT scan data to provide accurate representations of people with complex conditions such as scoliosis.

Professor Boszczyk said: “This is an innovative project which has resulted in the development of spinal models which look, feel and behave like real bone. These models will enable surgeons to practice very delicate procedures in a training environment which will give clinicians increased confidence before they undertake real spinal operations.”

Joe Meeks with a model spine
Joe Meeks
Joe Meeks with a model spine

The models are made from a polymer and a binding agent and are coated in polyester. The softer inside is made from polyurethane. Discs between vertebrae are made from silicone.

The next stage of the research is to print replica bones which vary in strength to give surgeons an accurate experience of operating on people with conditions like osteoporosis. It is hoped that the technology will be used in the classroom within the next few years.

Postgraduate student Joseph Meeks developed the technology as part of his MSc in Medical Product Design. His design work is currently on public exhibition for the university’s Postgraduate Design Exhibition 2017 until 4 October.

Mr Meeks, 27, from Nether Edge in Sheffield, Yorkshire, said: “Until a surgeon goes into a live operation, he or she has very little knowledge of how it feels to perform spinal surgery.

“This research provides consultants with a realistic representation of spinal surgery which allows them to learn in a safe and calm environment.

“By better communicating these experiences, we can improve the skills of surgeons in the classroom and help enhance operative outcomes for patients in real life.”

  • Notes for editors

    Press enquiries please contact Chris Birkle, Press Officer, on telephone +44 (0)115 848 2310, or via email; or Dave Rogers, Media Relations Manager, on telephone +44 (0)115 848 8782, or via email.

    Postgraduate Design Exhibition 2017: This exhibition celebrates the work of our postgraduate design students, offering a unique opportunity to view the outcomes from our diverse range of MA and MSc Design courses, showcasing our students pursuit of innovation – highlighting their understanding within the context of design.

    Public dates: Friday 29 September – Wednesday 4 October (see the website for opening times)
    Location: Room 001 and 002, Arkwright Building, NTU City Campus

    Nottingham Trent University was named Modern University of the Year in the Times and Sunday Times Good University Guide 2018. The award recognises NTU for its strong student satisfaction, quality of teaching, overall student experience and engagement with employers.

    Nottingham Trent University (NTU) is one of the largest UK universities with nearly 28,000 students and more than 3,500 staff across four campuses, contributing £496m to the UK economy every year. It is one of the most environmentally-friendly universities, containing some of the country’s most inspiring and efficient award-winning buildings.

    The University is passionate about creating opportunities and its extensive outreach programme is designed to enable NTU to be a vehicle for social mobility. The University is the sixth biggest recruiter of students from disadvantaged backgrounds in the country and 95.6% of its graduates go on to employment or further education within six months of leaving.

    NTU is home to world-class research, winning The Queen’s Anniversary Prize in 2015 - the highest national honour for a UK university. The prize recognised pioneering projects to improve the detection of weapons and explosives in luggage, enable safer production of powdered infant formula and combat food fraud.

    With an international student population of approximately 2,600 from around 100 countries, the University prides itself on its global outlook and seeks to attract talented students and staff from across the world

‘Lifelike’ 3D printed bones to help train spinal surgeons

Published on 2 October 2017
  • Category(s): Press office ; School of Architecture, Design and the Built Environment

Still need help?

+44 (0)115 941 8418