Virtual cadavers may help surgeons save limbs and lives
Soldiers will have full-body scans stored
on their medical files to help surgeons
rebuild them should they become injured
in war, under plans drawn up by US
The proposals call for computed
tomography (CT) scans to create “virtual
twins” of soldiers before they are
deployed, so that surgeons in field
hospitals can download their anatomical
details to guide reconstructive surgery in
the operating theatre.
Under the scheme, military surgeons
would use 3D printers to make exact
replicas of missing bone, such as parts of
the skull or limbs, to use as models for
surgical planning, or to implant directly
into patients.“The idea is to image someone when they
are in a healthy state so that the data is
available if it’s needed at a later point,”
said Dr James Mah, a clinical professor at
the University of Nevada in Las Vegas.
“We have soldiers who get injured. They
lose limbs and other tissues and it’s a
challenge to reconstruct them in the field.
But if they are imaged beforehand, you can
send that over the internet and have a 3D
printer in the field to produce the bone,”
Soldiers could have full body CT scans for
less than $100 (£65) each. The scans are
detailed enough to capture the precise
contours of each bone in the body.
Speaking at the American Association for
the Advancement of Science meeting in
San Jose, Mah demonstrated how CT scans
can be combined with other medical
images such as MRI scans, to create a
virtual body for teaching purposes.
The body is displayed on a table-sized
touch-sensitive screen that produces a full-
scale 3D image of the human body that can
be stripped down layer by layer to reveal
organs, blood vessels, nerves and bones
from any point of view. The £45,000
machine made by Anatomage in San Jose is
already in use in hospitals in the UK.
Though soldiers may be the first to have
virtual twins uploaded to the cloud in case
of future injuries, the same technology
could help civilians too. Surgeons are
increasingly turning to 3D printing to
reconstruct bones lost to cancer or
accidents, and the process would be more
straightforward if patients had perfect
replicas of their skeletons stored digitally.
In August, Craig Gerrand, a consultant
orthopaedic surgeon at the Newcastle upon
Tyne Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust, used
3D printing to make half of a titanium
pelvis for a man who had lost much of his
own to cancer.
Surgeons at the US Naval Postgraduate
Dental School in Maryland have
demonstrated how CT scans of combat
troops can be used to help repair damaged
skulls and jaws. The procedure compares
CT scans taken before and after an injury
and then recreates the shape of the
missing bone. Surgeons can use this as a
guide to reconstructive surgery, or to make
a customised facial implant.
The same scans can be used to make rigid
personalised masks for troops in case they
suffer facial burns in battle. When facial
burns are being treated, hard masks are
used to control the contours of the tissue as
it heals. More than 900 US troops received
serious burns in Iraq or Afghanistan since
2001, most from roadside bombs.
By scanning soldiers before they are
injured, surgeons could start work on them
as soon as they reach hospital. “A variety of
injuries can happen on the battlefield and
repair is unfortunately a long process. The
sooner you can get the replacement parts
together the better,” he said.