'Object of beauty,' Saskatoon doctor prints 3D replica of patient's brain

University of Saskatchewan's Dr. Ivar Mendez says 3D printing has a big future in health care after printing exact replica of patient's brain.

Dr. Ivar Mendez says 3D technology could lead to printing other organs

This 3D printed brain is being used by doctors in Saskatoon. (submitted by the University of Saskatchewan)

A Saskatoon neurosurgeon has managed to print a 3D replica of a patient's brain.

Dr. Ivar Mendez, head of surgery at the University of Saskatchewan, worked with a team of engineers to produce the model. It's an exact replica of a specific patient's brain, and he says it will let him practice surgeries. 

I feel that in the next 20, maybe 25 years, we will be able to print biological materials. We may be able to print organs.- Dr. Ivar Mendez

Mendez already uses computers in the operating room, and a member of his operating room team is a medical engineer. But completing a 3D brain was more complex, and would allow them to work on the smallest anatomical features of a brain.

"You can imagine it as having a pea inside a sock or balloon," Mendez said. "It is a complex system."

Dr. Ivar Mendez now has a 3D model of a brain to use for practising surgery. (Bonnie Allen/CBC News)

The critical part of the model is that it is an exact replica of the person's brain. If the person has a tumour, it's able to print a replica of the brain with the tumour. 

The model is printed in a transparent, rubber-like material. The transparency lets people see all the structures through the surface of the brain. Mendez said it feels very similar to the human brain. 

"I'm a neurosurgeon but I'm also interested in art. To me, this was an object of beauty."

Mendez believes this new technology will open doors. 

"I envision that in the future we may be able to do procedures that are very difficult or impossible today," he said. "I feel that in the next 20, maybe 25 years, we will be able to print biological materials. We may be able to print organs."

He mentioned that today's technology is already able to print the cartilage of an ear.

"3D printing is in its initial stages, but the future is very exciting."


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