In the summer of 1985, Alfred Poor and I tested and reviewed the first HP LaserJet printer for the IBM PC. I’m sure neither of us suspected that 34 years later – or ever – we’d write about HP printers turning out 3D color renderings of human body parts. We’ve written on HTI about 3D printed prosthetics, orthotics, and even a 3D printed hemispherical bionic eye prototype. And 3D printed models of organs and anatomical structures can also serve surgical aids.

HP partnered with the Belgian 3D printing platform firm Materialise to produce anatomical models for surgical diagnostics and planning. Materialise’s Build Processor connects the company’s Magics 3D Print Suite with HP Jet Fusion 3D printers. The software enables data preparation, printing operation management, and production monitoring. Data prep, for example, includes color and texture information for marking specific areas on models. The partnership demonstrated 3D printed models of a human skull, a cerebral aneurysm, and a congenital heart condition with a double outlet right ventricle.

According to Materialise, hospitals with point-of-care 3D printing facilities are beginning to use 3D printing services in personalized care. When surgeons can create physical models of organs based on patient CT scans, for example, the Surgical team leaders use the 3D models to prepare their teams to repair defects, design custom prostheses, and study treatment approaches. The models can also be helpful in explaining the planned procedures to patients.

The next time one of us is scheduled for surgery, rather than just watch while the physician holds up a standard teaching model of whatever structure is due for attention, perhaps we’ll be looking at our own heart, brain, or lung.