3D printer used in research at Seattle Children’s Hospital

In medicine some of the best results in research come when research centers and practicing hospitals and health centers work together: this is the case at Seattle Children’s hospital, one of the countries top pediatric hospitals and pediatric research centers.

Both parts of the hospital though benefit from the 3D printer that the research department have and the rapid prototyping techniques they use in their work. Models in healthcare and research are important for teaching, study and learning. It is the complex shapes of parts of the body that have led the hospital to invest in a desktop 3D printer, as used in Rapid Prototyping.

The printer is a V-Flash made by 3D systems, a simple printer in many ways such as being monotone and able to produce relatively small parts only: its uses have been priceless. In rapid prototyping, designers use these 3D printers to reproduce designs they have on a computer as a 3D CAD file; a designer with a printed model can then test it and look for flaws and check functionality.

Bio-engineers and researchers can take information from a CT scan or other 3D scan of body parts and turn them into CAD files that can be sent directly to the 3D printer. One example at Seattle has been with the nasal pharynx of a prematurely born child. Using CT scans they were able to print reproductions of the nasal pharynx that were highly accurate and which they could never produce before. Testing was then possible of respiratory devices to be used with premature infants at different sizes. The result they are aiming for is a device with nasal prongs that will fit better and be more comfortable for the child as well as being more efficient at helping them breath until they gain the strength to do so for themselves.

Using 3D printers this way, and techniques very similar to a design agency, brings benefits to the entire hospital of course and the number of applications is staggering; many applications will be for children with birth defects. Using 3D printers designs can even be made for specific children. A CT scan for example of a child’s heart may allow the design of a new valve to fit their heart precisely, either models of the heart, models of the valve or both could be made and tested on a 3D printer.

The speed of a 3D printer and the fact very little work needs to be put into preparing a file for print means that when making a model researchers don’t just get one chance either. In the past with models that were expensive and difficult to make accurately if one design was wrong it would not always be possible to get another model, or it would take a lot of time and money. With a 3D printer a design can be tweaked and dozens of models made until one is just right in exactly the same way as in a designers office where they may be making the latest must-have electronic device.

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