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New 3D printer to help doctors and students grow in St. Anthony

Learning in the third dimension

ST. ANTHONY, N.L. — Doctors and students alike can now benefit and learn from some fun new technology at Charles S. Curtis Memorial Hospital.

On June 5, Dr. Sivaruban Kanagaratnam (locally known as “Dr. Ruban”) and the team of MED 3D Network presented a new 3D printer to hospital staff, as well as to high school students from White Hills Academy.

The printer uses polylactic acid and polyvinyl alcohol plastics to print 3D models of almost anything, from human anatomy to parts of machines, that may be of use to hospital staff and local students.

MED 3D Network had a number of printed models on display during the presentation, including a human brain, heart, pelvis, cervix, food and a craniotomy simulator.

Kanagaratnam is hopeful the new technology will allow doctors like him to simulate surgical procedures in preparation for the real thing.

It will also provide models to teach students.

For instance, Kanagaratnam says he can teach students how to suture skin without having to use the skin of, say, a pig to practice on.

Plus he stresses that students can use it in any way that is useful for them.

For instance, if they want to learn how to operate on a part of a snowmobile, this is something that can simulated using the 3D printer as well.

Students attending had a few ideas what they might be able to use it for.

One student wondered if she could recreate an eyeball with the printer, another wondered if they can see a human skull recreated, and another even speculated whether it could recreate items from video games.

“I think the printer brings the community closer to the health care system,” Dr. Kanagaratnam told the Northern Pen. “And I think it makes us a better place. It can enhance clinical practice, it can enhance research.”

He hopes to be able to create an online network, where groups of people can consult with each other on printing projects.

The 3D printer will be located in the hospital library.

How it works

Project leader Greg Walsh explained how the 3D printer works to the Northern Pen.

Firstly, one has to acquire a digital model of a particular item.

These may be designed on your own, using CAD software, but a number of open source models are available online for free. is one such website where such models can be found.

For health care, the model can be provided through a CT scan.

Then, using the 3D printing software Cura, it can be transformed into code that can be understood by the printer.

“You put that in Cura, which is a slicer, and it slices into super thin layers and takes each of those layers and writes a code that this (the printer) can understand,” said Walsh. “It tells it basically for each layer what you do. And you move up one layer. It slices a 3D image into 2D layers and builds those layers on top of each other.”

The MED 3D Network

During the presentation, MED 3D Network indicated it is an expansion of MUN (Memorial University) MED 3D to “provide rural communities with capabilities to produce innovative medical tools for both simulation and clinical application. The network creates wide-reaching potential to advance hands-on learning and improve health care outcomes within (Newfoundland and Labrador) and throughout Atlantic Canada.”

One of their print labs is already operating in Carbonear. St. Anthony will be the second.

On Wednesday, June 6 they were travelling to Happy Valley-Goose Bay to open a third.

These laboratories will hub with the MUN MED 3D lab, the main laboratory at Memorial University in St. John’s.

“That lab will support the three sites in any design, troubleshooting, ordering of materials, etcetera,” project manager Greg Walsh told the Northern Pen. “The idea would be that, first, they kind of lean on the central lab for some help but as they grow more comfortable with it, they take on more and more of the actual design and printing process themselves.”

They hope there can be printers at six locations by the fall.

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