In order to be able to use the organs produced in 3D printing in research and medical training, extensive analyses of material and organ properties will be carried out at the beginning of the project. The data obtained in this way will then provide recipes for 3D printers that can produce material properties as required.
This is because physicians also have to practice - ideally not on a living object. Usually, numerous donor organs that can only be used once and for a short time are used for their training and further education. In order to carry out complex operations several times on the same tissue sample, new approaches are required - for example using 3D printing.
A team led by Prof. Dieter Pahr from the Department of Biomechanics at the Karl Landsteiner Private University Krems (KL Krems) laid the foundations for the project: Together with ACMIT GmbH in Wiener Neustadt and TU Vienna, he wants to create realistic tissue and organ models on the 3D printer.
In fact, 3D printers are already being used in everyday medical practice, for example to create models of complex surgical situations. This allows spatial conditions to be better captured and operational procedures to be practiced. But so far the models lack realistic tissue properties. This is where the project funded by the research and education company NÖ Forschungs- und Bildungsges.m.b.H. (NFB) comes in. Prof. Dieter Pahr: "As the basis for improved 3D printing for medical models, we will first precisely identify the biomechanical properties that have a decisive influence on the perceived tissue and organ behavior. We will then investigate which materials are suitable for 3D printing, what their properties are, and which "similar to real" microstructures can be printed." On the basis of these fundamental investigations, the team will then carry out the first test prints using suitable 3D printing methods.
For the analysis of the first test prints, Prof. Pahr is supported by a material testing laboratory at KL Krems. Mechanical structure and material tests can be carried out here as well as CNC production or modern tissue preparation. An X-ray micro computer tomograph, which allows 3D X-ray imaging of the finest internal structures, is also available here. Equipment for image analysis and microscopy as well as the latest IT infrastructure complement the tomograph. In this way, it is possible to compare the expected tissue properties based on the data analysis with those actually achieved in the 3D print. "For example, we will develop a computer model that allows us to predict the mechanical properties of a 3D-printed tissue on the basis of material selection and pressure settings," explains Prof. Dieter Pahr.
"We will compare the predictions with the actual printing results over and over again and continuously optimize the system. Finally, we will develop a system that uses the required fabric properties as input and delivers a recipe for the required raw materials and printing geometries as output."
This would represent a significant step forwards that would enable a high degree of individualization and realism of the tissue and organ models required for medical purposes. The combination of materials research, medical know-how, and expertise in the creation of computer models is exemplary for the entire research at KL Krems, which concentrates on niche fields in health-politically relevant bridge disciplines.