Makers and surgical trainee team up to improve prototyping bones from CT scans with 3D printers

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.

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.

3D Printing Bone on a budget!


  1. “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.”What kind of surgeon has never seen an anatomical model before? You figure this would have been old news to him.

    1. it’s not *just* a model. It’s a cost effective and useful model of the actual bone he is going to encounter, provided by a patient. That’s just not old hat. Not yet. 

    2. I think it’s probably the fact that it’s not an anatomical model, it’s a model of Cory’s actual bone. As a med student who’s done a bit of Ortho actual physical models of individual patient’s bones aren’t used very often, and I can imagine all the surgeons I know going mental for being able to practice on someone’s real anatomy.

      A friend of mine is in the process of making an accurate model of the head for the RCS for  neurologists/surgeons to learn with and practice on. Not just a take-the-plastic-bits-apart model like you got in school but a solid thing made of various materials you can cut open to examine. They can also include any kind of pathology in it that you want, and they’re cheap enough to actually be used. These kind of things are going to really change how anatomy teaching and medical training work.

  2. Cool stuff, but I can’t be the only one wondering how much longer until we can make actual replacement bones this way.

    1. You would create a negative mold from the 3d print, which would probably be more economical than printing a mold in the first place.

  3. Is this cost effective? Rather, how much time did the surgeon take in getting the data ready for Shapeways vs. paying someone else to massage the data and build it? If it’s as simply turn-key as giving the data to the local prototype shop at the university.

    And is building something like a copy of a body part going to run afoul of the HIPPA’s privacy provisions? Yeah, probably not, but at what point will it start to?

    1. considering the stated going rate of 1200 and his fashioning it in short time for 77, I’d call that efficient.

  4. To clarify a bit; the figure of $1200 is in dollars, while £77 is in pounds. All in dollars, that’s $1200 versus about $120. He got it done for about a tenth of the cost.

  5. Now imagine an MRI of your head, converted and 3D printed, in transparent plastic of varying colors.  I’m going to put LEDs in mine and hook them to an EEG machine to display my thoughts. 
    A mood head!

  6. Most of the print outfits can handle more than one material. Usually a bunch of different polymers, and some metals. Some clays sometimes, some glass sometimes.

    But yes, polishing up your finished product and making a cast of it would be much more economical under most circumstances.

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