Mark Frame, an orthopedic surgical trainee at Scotland's Monklands Hospital, 3D printed a model of a bone from a CT scan, as preparation for surgery. Rather than using the local rapid prototyping shop at a university (where such an operation might cost $1200 for a miniature model), Frame modelled the bone himself and had it printed at Shapeways for £77. The Shapeways community gave him feedback and help as he worked through the process, using free software tools to make the model. I love how networked maker communities help people who have specific, interesting problems to solve them for themselves. I also love 3D printed bones -- as you might remember, my wife surprised me with a 3D print of my femur after my surgery this year. When I showed it to my surgeon (a man of heroic reserve and calm) he practically flipped his lid and I practically had to pry it out of his fingers.
I used OsiriX, a well known open source medical imaging package for mac OS to open the CT scan images and produce a surface render (mesh of points) and export it in a format I could manipulate and make compatible for the printers at Shapeways. I exported the files as .obj files and opened them in a recommended manipulation program called MeshLab. This, another free open source application for mac osx. The aim of this application is to close any holes in the meshes and to delete any artifact produced in the scans. These were then exported as .stl files ready for printing.3D Printing Bone on a budget!
I uploaded them to Shapeways through my account and they were almost instantly verified as printable and Shapeways began processing the images. The total cost for both bones in white flexible plastic only came to a tiny £77. The bones were in our hands in 7 days to the UK. The resultant models were amazing! We verified them and found them to be virtually identical copies of the bones on the CT scans. The white plastic was a great material to machine and use our normal orthopedic drills and saws and screws on to practice the operation.