Surgeons could soon be perfecting their key-hole surgery techniques on artificial bodies, produced by technology normally used to make precision tools and parts for industry.
Cardiff University’s Manufacturing Engineering Centre (MEC) is developing Primacorps, a cost-effective realistic surgical trainer, for the Bristol-based company Limbs and Things Ltd.
“Virtual bodies” have now been created and the next step will be to make prototype physical versions, for evaluation by surgeons across Europe.
Once the prototypes are approved, final parts – organs and bones - will be produced, using novel materials and the MEC’s state of the art rapid tooling technology.
“Such artificial bodies are now needed because of recent advances in minimally invasive surgical techniques, such as laparoscopy or key-hole surgery,” said Mr Julien Etienne, project engineer at the MEC. “The success of these technical advances relies heavily on the skills training of surgeons.
“Traditionally, surgeons have acquired skills as ‘apprentices’, but many surgical trainers are uncomfortable about trainees starting to learn on real patients, and it is widely acknowledged that training has lacked uniformity and has led to an inconsistent acquisition of skills by surgeons.”
The project is made possible by “reverse engineering” – a reversal of the usual engineering process. Instead of a design being used to make a product, a product is used to make a design – from which many others may then be produced.
The significant difference here is that the product being reproduced is the human body.
Two average individuals - one male and one female - were scanned from neck to upper thigh, using the Bristol Oncology Centre’s MRI (Magnetic Resonance Imaging) tunnel scanner.
These data sets were then processed by the MEC to produce the organs and skeletal structure in a CAD (Computer Aided Design) friendly format.
Close collaboration between engineers and surgeons has been necessary to ensure that the parts could be produced by existing injection moulding techniques and that they are anatomically accurate,
The MEC, based in the University’s School of Engineering, is a Welsh Development Agency-recognised Centre of Excellence and holds the Queen’s Anniversary Prize for its work for and with local small and medium-sized firms.
It is part of the School’s Electrical and Electronic Engineering Division, which received a 5 rating in the recent assessment of research quality, denoting work of international and national excellence.
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