Inside the Collection

National Science Week: Heads and Hearts – won over with 3D printing

It’s National Science Week! Tune in each day to meet MAAS’ science curators, discover objects from our wonderful science collection and find out what a science curator actually does in a day.

In 2016, the Museum of Applied Arts and Sciences presented the exhibition Out of Hand: materialising the digital. This exhibition explored the concept of a post-digital age. The place and impact of digital technology forming the material production of objects in art and design and, significantly, in areas such as health and medicine, presented opportunities to expand the collection and curatorial research and expertise in new directions.

Three objects which featured in the exhibition were examples of 3D printed human heart models, and a digitally designed and printed skull implant.

The hearts were the product of the research and development taking place at Sydney’s Victor Chang Cardiac Research Institute. Consultant Cardiologist at the Institute, and Director of Cardiac MRI at Liverpool Hospital Dr James Otton has been an early champion of this technology in Australia. Dr Otton trained in advanced cardiac imaging at St Vincent’s Hospital, and Guy’s and St Thomas Hospital, King’s College London. In addition to specialist medical qualifications, he has a Master of Biomedical Engineering and a PhD in advanced cardiac imaging. It’s certainly no surprise that Dr Otton is at the forefront of this therapeutic development.

The red and blue 3D heart model represents normal heart anatomy and is an exact replica of one that continues to beat within a patient. Its 3D image was captured with a CT scan. This model was used for rehearsal of a procedure, and for clear reference to the actual patient’s heart.

3D printed surgical heart, red and blue acrylic, designed by Dr James Otton
3D printed surgical heart, red and blue acrylic, designed by Dr James Otton, Victor Chang Cardiac Research Institute, Sydney, New South Wales, Australia, 2016

The second model is a semi-transparent print of the heart. This model was used to help doctors plan for device implantation, allowing the size of the device to be perfectly tailored to the individual patient and preventing leakage or damage to the heart. This model includes an example of the type of stent (wire tube which keeps the artery open) that was implanted into a patient’s heart.

3D printed surgical heart, acrylic, designed by Dr James Otton
3D printed surgical heart, acrylic, designed by Dr James Otton, Victor Chang Cardiac Research Institute, Sydney, New South Wales, Australia, 2016

Anatomics is a Melbourne-based and Australian-owned medical device company that has been manufacturing surgical products since the 1960s. Anatomics pioneered CT scan-derived surgical implant technology that assisted surgeons to produce better surgical outcomes and save operating theatre time.

The Anatomics Acrylic custom cranial implant was manufactured for a patient who had a cranial bone flap removed during a decompressive craniectomy surgery procedure following a traumatic brain injury. This type of surgery is performed when swelling around the brain is so severe that a section of skull and dura are removed to remove the pressure. Anatomics was provided with a CT scan of the patient’s skull. The medical imaging was used to design and handcraft a custom-made and patient-specific implant to perfectly fit the defect area. The transparency of the implant provides visibility for the surgeon and 3D-printing technology was used to create a replica of the patient’s skull. The pre-drilled holes in the implant allow for fluid transfer and for simple surgical fixation.

Medical device, 3D printed skull implant
Medical device, 3D printed skull implant, 3D printed model of skull, acrylic / metal, designed and made by Anatomics, Melbourne, Victoria, Australia, 2016

Despite CNC machines producing very fine edges on skull implants, it impossible for them to manufacture certain organic shapes. It is also expensive and time consuming. The detail of the patient’s cranial defect captured by CT scan can be matched with an exacting fit by using digital printing and hand finishing.

Detail of Medical device, 3D printed skull implant
Medical device, 3D printed skull implant, 3D printed model of skull, acrylic / metal, designed and made by Anatomics, Melbourne, Victoria, Australia, 2016

As trite as it sounds, these objects are literally cutting edge.

To read more pick up a copy of the Out of Hand catagloue at the MAAS Store.

And remember, if you get the chance, there are a wealth of opportunities to get involved with science this week as part of the Sydney Science Festival.

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