There’s no such thing as too much practice when it comes to brain surgery.
But it’s hard for beginner neurosurgeons to get real hands-on experience. Most residents learn by watching and assisting experienced surgeons.
Newbies can practice on cadavers or use simulators, of course. But neither of those alternatives is quite the same as operating on a real, live patient, for better and for worse.
That’s why 3-D printers might help the doctors do a better job. At the University of Malaya in Malaysia, neurosurgeons are using 3-D printers to make realistic skulls and brains that residents can use to hone their skills.
The models combine different materials to mimic the feel of human bone, membrane and tissue. Each practice patient is made to order from the scans of an actual patient, so students can try the same procedures they see senior surgeons perform.
Dr. Vicknes Waran, one of the neurosurgeons working on the project, says he prefers these 3-D models over cadavers for teaching.
"In some parts of the world, it’s difficult to get cadavers," Waran tells Shots. Plus it’s hard to find a cadaver with the types of tumors and illnesses that the residents are being trained to treat. The best part, Waran says, is that students can practice on the models as many times as they need to in order to completely master a technique.