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Teaching human anatomy with 3D printing

Teaching human anatomy with 3D printing

Sarah Curran explains how 3D printing is being used in the classroom to better explain the fundamentals of human anatomy.

Human anatomy contributes to the foundational basis of many health related undergraduate programmes, yet the learning and understanding of this subject area can challenge the best of students. Whilst there is no set standard for teaching anatomy, a range of methods are typically used and include, lectures, two-dimensional diagrams, cadaver dissection and static skeletal models.

Each of these methods however can be limited with lectures creating a passive form of learning, and two-dimensional diagrams promoting superficial learning and understanding.  In the context of the human foot, which is a complex multi-articular structure made up of 26 bones and over 30 joints, two-dimensional representations are perceived as being limited educationally, as the foot is a complex jigsaw within a three dimensional space.

Whilst plastic foot models reduce some of this spatial visualisation and offer a three dimensional aspect, they can be of limited value for not being able to show natural human variation and perhaps more importantly are static in nature. For example, these models possess little or no movement and manipulation, with students unable to ‘pull apart’ and ‘rebuild’ the model to view articular surfaces and the contours of the intermediate (in-between) bones. This limits active learning and the true appreciation of the foot’s anatomical complexity.

Technology and innovation has become synonymous with learning and teaching at all levels. In this context, and in collaboration with Dr. Dominic Eggbeer (Product, Design and Research Development) at Cardiff Metropolitan University we have developed a prototype anatomical foot model using three dimensional (3D) rapid printing. Data from computed tomography from a healthy right foot was used and adapted using Minimagic software.

The bones were printed using an acrylate material and the application of magnets were applied to the joint surface areas of the 26 bones to enable the bones to be pulled apart and rebuilt. Hands-on use with the foot jigsaw and the creation of a video has the potential to add to the tool kit of understanding of anatomy and function of human body with the use of smart phones apps. This integrates a practical and technological approach to learning and teaching.

21st Century Stats

Originally launched: 1999.

Relaunched: January 1st, 2016.

Contributors: 70 contributors including futurists, engineers, teachers, writers, 23 doctors and 7 professors.

Created by: Clifford White.

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