The scientists tried out several 3-D printers, including the Makerbot ReplicatorFlickr, Creative ToolsSurgeons and students could use 3-D printing to explore anatomy without cutting into flesh. Researchers published a video in the Journal of Visualized Experiments last month (March 22) explaining how to feed data on bone structure and soft tissue shape from CT scans into a 3-D printer, creating realistic plastic replicas.

Notre Dame engineering student Evan Doney, an undergraduate working in the lab of biological imaging expert Matthew Leevy, came up with the idea to give 3-D printers instructions based on CT scan data. The researchers tested the concept by printing out the skeleton and lungs of an anesthetized rat, as well as the preserved skull of a rabbit, using several different materials and machines.

Leevy originally saw Doney’s project as a neat trick. “At first I didn’t really know what the killer app would be,...

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