How 3D Scanning is Advancing Medical Training

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By Daniela Carr

Right now, all eyes are on the medical profession. Amidst a global pandemic, doctors, nurses, and other healthcare practitioners are on the front lines – caring for the sick, creating safety protocols on the fly, and developing therapies to help eradicate the virus. Meanwhile, the next generation of medical professionals are learning their craft to eventually join the fight in beating back against disease and illness. In some cases, they are even graduating and interacting with patients earlier than expected. 

Helping to accelerate and enrich medical training is 3D scanning technology paired with 3D printing and virtual reality (VR). The combination of these tools is continuing to grow in popularity among the medical community – a trend that has only accelerated due to the pandemic. 3D scanning has found its niche in replicating hands-on experiences through a variety of applications, including the creation of virtual applications and realistic training dummies.

Digital Cadavers 

While remote and digital learning has become more popular amidst COVID-19, students at Montpellier Medical University are used to this type of learning, especially when it comes to cadaver dissection. While the use of real cadavers is the standard way to teach human anatomy and dissection to medical students, issues with the availability and costs of cadavers often arise. Performing dissections on cadavers can be costly, and inexperienced medical students do not always perform a proper dissection on the first try, which can damage or even destroy a cadaver. 

Two surgeons from the University’s anatomy laboratory, M.D, Ph.D Guillaume Captier and M.D Mohamed Akkari, were hoping to find a better way of teaching dissection to their students without breaking the bank, which is what led them to using 3D scanning to make an application for digital cadaver training. To ensure that the application data was as realistic and accurate as possible, all of the dissection steps were performed on an actual corpse and each stage was digitally captured using professional, handheld 3D scanners. The 3D scanning data was used to create photo-realistic models that served as the foundation for creating this unique application. 

Now, students can practice dissections in a VR environment that shows realistic cadavers composed of multiple layers of skin, fascia, and muscle. Users can also view combined CT, MRI, and 3D scans in one 3D scene. This versatile and unique application is able to run in an examination mode as well, in order to check the level of students’ knowledge, allowing them to hone their medical skills before they graduate to using real cadavers. When paired with haptic devices, the students will be able to feel resistance on the tools they are using when performing the digital dissection. While this project is only a pilot, it does represent a form of digital learning that could quickly become popular due to its cost-savings and ability to accommodate remote students. 

3D-Printed Manikins

Meanwhile in the UK, NHS Nightingale Hospitals embraced innovation out of necessity at the peak of COVID-19’s spread. Early on, it was identified that one of the main treatment methods for patients battling severe COVID-19 symptoms was placing them on a ventilator. However, in emergency situations, accuracy and precision is key, which can be challenging for new or future nurses and doctors. 

Luckily for Nightingale, just two weeks before the United Kingdom entered the lockdown phase of the Covid-19 pandemic, they were given five hyper-realistic manikins from dummy-maker LifeCast BodySim. While LifeCast is used to using 3D scanning to make manikins for the film industry (their work has been used in Saving Private Ryan and the Fast and Furious series), they recently started making dummies for medical purposes.

To create the manikins, the company 3D scans living volunteers of all ages, shapes, and backgrounds to get an array of designs. The scans are 3D printed and then touched up by hand before being used to create molds. Utilizing the molds, ultra-realistic manikins are produced out of silicon. Finishing details, such as adding hair (human and yak) to these manikins, only add to the realism. 3D scanning and printing are also used to recreate components that would be incredibly difficult to mold, such as a rib cage. The dummies go much deeper than stunningly real appearances – they have evolved to a level where they can be made with breathing capabilities and internal features, such as replicating a pulse and simulated breathing. Every dummy is also equipped with a camera in its throat; this is used for intubation training. 

Using the 3D scanned manikins, NHS Nightingale Hospitals have been able to train thousands of medical staff personnel within the UK on COVID-19 procedures without the pressure of working on a real patient or risking infection. This not only up levelled their COVID response but has also helped train more staff than ever before on working with respirators, ventilators, and incubators. 

These two use cases represent what the future of medical training could look like. Each creates a safe and controlled environments for medical training to take place, while removing pressure from students to “get it right the first time.” The COVID-19 pandemic has certainly accelerated some of these developments and 3D scanning will continue to be a feature in medical training that grows as our world becomes more digital.

Daniela Carr is the Chief Marketing Officer of 3D of Artec 3D, manufacturer of 3D hardware and software, where she facilitates global growth, sales and marketing strategy. Prior to her current role, Daniela was Head of Marketing & Public Relations. Daniela holds a master’s degree from the University of London and has 10+ years of professional experience that spans the technology, film, and news industries. In her free time, Daniela enjoys good wine, Nigerian literature, and particularly cuddly cats.

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