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New 3D printed bio-electronic devices could improve surgery outcomes

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(NBC News) -

Researchers at the University of Minnesota say they have come up with a new 3D printed, bio-electronic device that could improve surgery outcomes.

Mechanical engineers at the University of Minnesota have been busy 3D printing something that could change the way surgeons learn and prepare.

Michael McAlpine, a mechanical engineer said, "So this is a life-like prostate model which gives electronic feedback."

McAlpine says the model is also patient specific, meaning he and his team begin by analyzing actual MRI scans and tissue samples.

McAlpine said, "We take that tissue, we do mechanical tests on it in order to figure out the properties of the prostate tissue.  And then we develop our own inks for our 3D printer, which we custom build. And the ink allows us to build a prostate here, a prostate model, which feels exactly like the prostate itself."

That printer, and ink are now part of a patented process that goes beyond current technology for printing models out of rubber or hard materials.

McAlpine said, "The problem with this is you can't cut into it, you can't suture it, it has limited value for surgical practice... with our 3D printed prostate models, the surgeon can take this, they can suture it, they can cut into it, it gives a real time electronic feedback."

That feedback is possible thanks to sensors that are also embedded during the printing process, which can help inform surgeons, or aspiring surgeons, in real time. Something that holds promise for improving surgeries in real life.

McAlpine said, "Medical errors are actually a leading cause of death now, so what we would like to do is create a realistic model that surgeons can practice on in order to reduce medical error."

Some U of M surgeons are already using the model to do just that and there are more models on the way.

As the technology continues to evolve the U of M team believes their printing can eventually help create bionic organs that could be used for transplants.

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