Fake Brain. Real Surgery

Spring 2015

Lance Pitka

Schulich Leader at University of Saskatchewan

SaskInvent is a group of engineering students I am a part of at the U of S focused on making improvements on medical technologies. The one of the projects we are working on is the Brain Project.

The Brain Project involves 3D printing an anatomically correct brain from unique patient MRI scans. The purpose of the project is to provide a pre surgery practice model for deep brain stimulation surgery - a process involving inserting an electrode into specific regions of the brain to emit electrical impulses. This medical procedure is shown to treat the symptoms of diseases such as Parkinson's, chronic pain, and OCD.

Accurate brain models have been made before using large scale expensive 3D printers, but each model is expensive and the materials they can print with are limited. Each model costs around $2000 dollars to print and can only be printed in semi-transparent flexible plastics. We need materials that are completely transparent and have properties similar to jello, because the electrical probe used in deep brain stimulation surgery is only the width of a human hair it would buckle if used on even flexible plastics, so materials which more closely mimic brain tissue is needed.

We are able to create an affordable brain by using the Peachy Printer – a printer being developed in Saskatoon which will retail for $100. The printer is able to print soft material, as well as dome-like structures without the use of internal supports.

Our current efforts are focussed on what material will be best to use, and isolating certain internal features of the brain in an STL file from MRI scans.

Note that the photo included of the brain is only a proof of concept and is not the final model.

This project will keep me busy for the majority of summer. A 40 hour work week isn’t enough to keep busy when you’re accustomed to a full engineering course load!