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Soldiers could have their bones copied and 3D printed in case of injury

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Soldiers could be scanned before they enter the battlefield and a virtual ‘twin’ kept online so that new bones could be 3D printed when they get injured, scientists have suggested.

Experts at the University of Nevada are in discussion with the US military to create records of ‘virtual’ soldiers which could be referred to by army surgeons.

The team already uses virtual operating tables to practice dissection and help medical students learn the anatomy of the human body.

The tables work by taking x-rays, ultrasounds and MRI’s to create an exact replica of a human body so that trainee doctors can see inside the body in great detail.

But the experts are now in talks to use the technology to scan healthy people to create a personal three dimensional record so that it could be compared with later scans after an injury.

Scientists believe it could be particularly useful for creating state-of-the art limbs for wounded soldiers because the exact dimensions of their limbs would be recorded in 3D detail.

Speaking at a conference in San Jose, California, Dr James Mah, Director of Advanced Education Program in Orthodontics at the University of Nevada, said that discussions were already taking place to bring the technology to the battlefield.

“The idea is to image somebody when in a healthy state so that the data is available at a later point,” he said.

“We do have soldiers that are injured, they lose limbs and it is a challenge to reconstruct. The thinking is if they do an image beforehand they may be able to 3D print a femur which could provide a template to facilitate surgical repair in the field.”

“The technology could help many of our war casualties and veterans.”

For soldiers who lose limbs it would mean that a virtual version of their own bodies would exist so that bones could be printed to help surgeons create an exact replica, or even implant it directly.

Scientists have already created 3D printed jawbones from titanium powder which is porous and can allow new bone to grow into the gaps.

The virtual autopsy table, designed by US firm Anatomage, is approximately the size of a front door with a large screen which shows a life-size body which can be manipulated in three dimensions.

Tissue can be sliced with a swipe of the finger while skin, muscle and ribs can be stripped away to reveal difficult to reach internal organs. Areas can be enlarged for more detailed study and the software can work with real patient data.

Its creators refer to it as a ‘reusable cadaver’ and it can currently hold the data for around 1,000 patients.

Dr Mah added: “The benefit is that we can look right through the body into difficult to reach areas.

“We can peel away with skin down through the muscles to the organs right down to the brain stem.”

Previously teaching hospitals had to rely on bodies being donated, to give students a real taste of the human body but donations have steadily decreased over the last 20 years.

Mr Mah was speaking at the American Association for the Advancement of Science annual conference in San Jose, California.

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“Soldiers could have their bones copied and 3D printed in case of injury”