World-first operation on a 3D-printed brain
Ever wanted to peek inside the brain of Barack Obama?
An Adelaide company is 3D-printing human brains for surgeons to practice their techniques on. Fusetec is working in collaboration with the University of Adelaide, the University of South Australia and the Royal Adelaide Hospital to take the brains to the world.
On Wednesday at Adelaide Uni's Simlab, RAH neurosurgeon Adam Wells had a crack at saving "Obama" - well, a brain inside a head modelled on the former US President.
It was believed to be a world-first operation
After the "spinal fluid" was put in, Mr Wells cracked the cranium with an orbital saw, gently navigated through flesh and arteries, and scooped out a tumour.
Fusetec's chief executive officer Mark Roe said the brains are not as messy or high-maintenance as cadavers. And you can print brains with tumours in different places, or hidden aneurysms, or rare conditions.
Patients will be able to have their own brain scanned and 3D-printed for surgeons to practice on before they take a drill to the real thing.
Mr Roe knew the capability of 3D printing technology, and worked out a way to use brain scans of real people and turn them into data that a printer can then turn into a replica brain.
"I was an entrepreneur looking for a problem to solve. It took me a year to find that problem," he said.
"I looked at defence, I looked at aerospace, and then I looked at medical. I spoke to surgeons and academics and looked at the problems they were having.
"What kept coming up was they needed patient-specific models made so they could practice before they did the operation."
On Friday, 40 visiting surgeons from around the world will be able to simultaneously operate on 40 3D printed heads. It will be "surgical tourism", Mr Roe said.
Dr Wells' verdict was that there was a "high degree of realism" in the brains, and that it would improve students' training. It would be very helpful to have practice surgery as well, he said, joking that "we can make mistakes and Obama's not going to mind".
Trade Minister David Ridgway "discovered" Mr Roe on a China trade mission where the Fusetec boss was wandering around with a heart in his hand.
"People didn't believe it was going to work and he just kept going and going," he said.
"You can actually train on a paediatric heart, a child's heart, you can print 100 of them.
"This tech will continue to evolve, and it's world-leading. Today's the first time this has happened anywhere in the world, and it happened on North Terrace."