DNP and University of Tsukuba Develop Low Cost 3D Printer Based Organ Model Production Technique

Reveals complicated interior organ structure

Dai Nippon Printing Co., Ltd.
University of Tsukuba

Dai Nippon Printing Co., Ltd. (DNP) in conjunction with the University of Tsukuba have successfully developed a low cost human organ model production technique for use with 3D printers that helps reveal complicated interior organ structure.

Professor Nobuhiro Ohkohchi and Lecturer Yukio Oshiro of the Faculty of Medicine, and Professor Jun Mitani of the Faculty of Engineering, Information and Systems at the University of Tsukuba have collaborated with DNP to produce a 3D printer-based technique for producing human organ models in a format that makes internal structures, such as blood vessels easier to see.

The newly developed technique allows for the production of 3D human organ models at costs as low as 1/3 compared to those for currently available technology.

It is expected that the penetration of the new technique will lead to the promotion of clinical site applications.  


The value of the global 3D printer market1 is forecast to rise to approximately 21 trillion yen by 2020, comprising 1 trillion yen for equipment and materials, and 20 trillion yen in other services. Currently, practical examples of the use of 3D printers in the healthcare area include the use of individualized 3D human organ models for patients, to ensure safer and more certain surgical operation execution. And instances of 3D printer-based surgical planning, such as simulations and training are on the rise. In certain operations involving the skull and jaw, the use of life size 3D reproductions of body parts are already covered by health insurance. 3D models of solid organs, such as the liver and pancreas, are also seeing use, mainly in doctorial research and certain real cases, and looking ahead, there are expectations that such models may be used in actual treatments at clinical sites.

With currently available 3D printers, however, resin materials are expensive, and costs for the production of single sold organ models can run as high as several hundred thousand yen. As a result, it has been difficult to expand use to the clinical areas where individual patient-based 3D models are necessary. Also, with existing models, the structure of internal organs, such as blood vessels, are created with non-transparent or opaque resin. Attempts to create solid organ parts with transparent resin have seen the transparent portion of the model affected by refracted light, posing the challenge of the internal portions of the organ appearing to be distorted, and also of low visibility for the structure of internal organs, such as blood vessels.

At the University of Tsukuba, the medical and information system related faculties have collaborated to engage in 3D and virtual technology driven surgical operation simulation R&D, and the use of 3D models in surgical training and pre-op procedure checks is being promoted.

DNP operates a variety of 3D printer-driven businesses, such as the production of prototype plastic containers for industrial use, housing models for use at housing exhibition venues, and in appendixes for magazines in the entertainment area. The Company is also engaged in the development of a security program to prevent the use of 3D printers in the production of dangerous or hazardous materials, and also in cases involving copyright infringements.

In this latest development, the knowledge of both DNP and the University of Tsukuba has been mustered and applied to develop a technique for the production of 3D models of real organs that reveals the internal structure of organ structure, and a 3D liver print model has been successfully produced. The University of Tsukuba produced the 3D digital data, while DNP performed data corrections, and set output conditions.

[R&D Contents and Results]

The 3D organ models created based on the techniques developed in this R&D maintain the following features;

  • The 3D organ model is configured in line with the external face of the solid portion that performs the organ function (in the case of the liver, the liver cells), making virtually all of the internal portions hollow. As a result, it has been possible to reduce the volume of resin materials used, helping cut costs to approximately 1/3 compared to currently available products. These lower costs will promote regular use in clinical situations.
  • As the internal condition of the organ are clearly visible, it is easier to confirm spots where blood vessels are intricately intertwined. This, in turn, provides for such increased effects as common image sharing amongst the operation team, surgical format planning, pre-op simulation, and confirmation tasks during the operation.
  • The 3D organ model is also useful when explaining medical conditions to the patient, and when obtaining informed consent for operations.

[Forward Looking Events]

The newly developed human organ 3D model will be expanded to include other internal organs, such as the pancreas, promoted for use in surgical training and applied in clinical situations. DNP will provide 3D printer-based prototype, design and manufacturing services targeting a variety of areas, beginning with residential housing, and will create a one-stop service from input to output through the realization of 3D data generation technology.

The patent is pending on the human organ 3D model technique, and commercial applications are targeted by FY 2016.

It is planned to announce the research results from this latest development at the 70th General Meeting of the Japanese Society of Gastroenterological Society to be held in Hamamatsu City, Shizuoka Prefecture from July 15 to July 17.

1: Source: The Study Group on New Monodzukuri
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