Medical & Dental

University of Alabama students create 3D printed healthcare simulators for medical training

Engineering students from the University of Alabama in Huntsville (UAH) have 3D printed medical training tools to be used by undergraduates in UAH’s College of Nursing. With the creation of 3D devices such as a cricothyrotomy trainer, vein finder, and an onychectomy trainer, aspiring nurses can safely practice important medical procedures on lifelike healthcare simulators.

Making medical task tools

Recognising the growing trend of 3D printed medical models used for task training, Dr. Lori Lioce, Clinical Associate Professor at UAH ‘s College of Nursing and Norven Goddard, a Research Scientist at UAH’s Systems Management and Production (SMAP) Center decided to use the university’s 3D printers create their own models.

“These models cost more than a thousand dollars, but we wanted something that would save money, be cost-effective and use the university’s resources,” said Goddard. “We asked ourselves, how cheaply can we do this?”

Lioce enlisted a “3D specialist team” comprising of engineering and computer science students to help produce the medical task trainers. Firstly, the team created a cricothyrotomy trainer – a training model of a patient’s neck, used to practice emergency procedures to clear a patient’s airway. The task trainer’s digital design files are available on the 3D file sharing platform, Thingiverse, and after three prototypes, the team created over four accessible models for all medical classes.

Next, the team 3D printed an onychectomy trainer, a device used to practice the removal of thumbnails as well as a 3D printed vein finder which, according to Goddard, typically cost hundreds of dollars. Nonetheless, the student team was able to create these devices using $6 open-source design files.

A selection of training items that have been 3D printed as part of a collaboration between UAH’s College of Nursing and its Systems Management and Production Center. Photo via UAH.

With the use of 3D printing, the College of Nursing has saved an estimated $6000 on medical training equipment and has given nurse practitioner students at UAH the opportunity to repeatedly practice a specific skill in preparation for providing healthcare in the real world.

After the success of the 3D printed healthcare simulators, Lioce, Goddard and the student team plan to teach other nursing students how to 3D print with upcoming projects to create an injection simulation pad and 3D medical models.   

“We’re trying to cross-pollinate so everyone knows how to 3D print, injection mold, solder, use the software and do whatever else is needed,” said Goddard.

Additive Manufacturing provides realistic healthcare simulations

The customizable capabilities of additive manufacturing technologies, as well as the plethora of unique 3D printing material, have paved the way for more realistic healthcare simulation devices for medical students.

Researchers from the Japanese Tottori University Hospital previously collaborated with medical company Tmsuk R&D Inc to create a medical simulation robot with 3D printed organs. This robot has been designed to exhibit human emotions and reflexes to give medical professionals and students gain a greater awareness of the patient experience.

Furthermore, 3D Systems has previously launched the medical training tool, the Simbionix SPINE Mentor, which combines virtual reality simulation, 3D printing and medical tools to create a hybrid solution that medical practitioners train for spinal surgery training

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Featured image shows SMAP Center student interns James Tovar, Marquis Myler, Nicholas Swinford, Martavia Lucious, Matthew Daigle, and Andrew Farris who created a variety of cost-effective 3-D printed task trainers to be used by students in UAH’s College of Nursing.

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