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3D Printers making better surgeons

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From tiny splints that help babies breathe better, to new and functional limbs, - 3D printers are looking more like the future of medicine.

However, they're not only building new parts, they're helping surgeons do their jobs even better.

"Not only does it look and feel and dissect like real tissue," says Dr. David Zopf of the University of Michigan.

For example, a very life-like model of a child's face, with a cleft pallet, came off of a printer in the 3D lab in University's Biomedical Engineering building.

It is just one of several models that could be used as an educational tool for would-be surgeons.

"Having a tool like a high fidelity model, that surgeons in training can practice on, can potentially accelerate that learning process," Zopf says.

The models could also allow experienced surgeons to hone their craft and, Zopf says, lead to better precision, "The stakes are high and I think the more preparation and the more practice, the better."

The models could have tremendous impact for the most complicated cases. In one instance, actual medical imaging from a patient helped generate a model of a skull with a tumor growing inside it was built using imaging from an actual patient. This life-like, 3D model overs doctors a better view of what they will face in the operating room. .

"With some of those complex things, being able to look at them with some of the traditional imaging, CT scan, MRI is vital, but being able to kind of hold it and look at it in a physical model has a big benefit," Zopf says.

These models could also help doctors better explain complicated procedures and diagnosis to anxious patients and their families.

"Particularly with complex issues and complex anatomic sorts of things, being able to look at it and hold it and have the surgeon explain it," Zopf says.

Tonight, on the NBC25 news at 11, you will see how 3D technology helped one Michigan baby overcome a defect. We will also show you future miracles in the making, expected to come from these printers.

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