Upcoming brain surgeons can’t exactly start straight away on a human brain, but rather have to work up through a number of simulations. Trainees may spend as much as 10 years after graduation from medical school developing their surgical skills before they can be designated as proficient in their specialty.

Vicknes Waran from the University of Malaya in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, and a number of other colleagues from around the world, including the University of Oxford in the United Kingdom, have been working on a 3D printed brain model. The team used Stratasys’ Object500 Connex multi-material 3D printer to produce a brain model that has managed to mimic the consistency of skin, bone and membranes. A jelly-like substance acted as a tumor that students had to remove. The $600 model can only be used once (skull can be resumed), but they are easy to replicate.

Malaysian researchers enlisted the help of other researchers from the United Kingdom to test and improve the model. Three neurosurgeons and one expert in surgical simulations assessed the models tissue components and rated them from fair to good.

Apparently the 3D printed skull and brain models were an improvement over existing models that are currently in operation. It allows trainees to see, feel and even hear how each type of tissue responds to surgery. Patient-specific models can simulate the unique medical conditions that different patients have.

“As 3D printer technology improves, these machines will provide the possibility for newer, more complex models to be created, allowing an improved training experience.” said researchers. Dr. Waran stated, “3D models of the future may allow the possibility to perform entire operations from start to finish, making for a realistic simulator”.

The Malaysian team are already working on more sophisticated models that “bleeds and has fluid for brain endoscopy,”  These will allow students to probe further and get a better feel for surgery.