Resident Uses 3D Printer He Bought, Himself, to Improve Surgery

Neurosurgery resident William Clifton, M.D., believed so strongly that 3D-printed models would be helpful in training surgeons that he purchased his own 3D printer to get started.

William Clifton, M.D., gives new meaning to the phrase taking work home. Dr. Clifton, a neurosurgery resident at Mayo Clinic in Florida, "believed he could find new ways to train surgeons by creating 3D-printed models," reports Mayo Clinic Magazine. And while the idea was a good one, "Mayo Clinic's pool of resources is finite and space is limited," according to the magazine. Which meant there was no money available to buy a 3D printer, and no place to install one.

But Dr. Clifton was determined. He "purchased a 3D printer with a personal loan and safely stashed it in the corner of a bedroom in his home." A home he shares with his wife, Kristen, and their four children. When the 50-lb box housing the printer arrived at Chez Clifton, the good doctor received both a smile and eye roll from his wife, who then "took the lead" in setting the machine up in a bedroom.

Dr. Clifton was soon spending his free time printing models to use to train residents for surgery. And a mere eight months later, he'd authored "more than 20 peer-reviewed publications" and submitted several patents for neurosurgical devices. He'd also begun working with Aaron Damon, a simulation technologist at the J. Wayne and Delores Barr Weaver Simulation Center. Together, "they have developed hundreds of their original Biomimetic Human Tissue Simulators," 3D Print.Com reports.

Those simulators have helped surgeons-in-training improve their techniques, providing the opportunity to practice surgeries over and over again. "The faculty is ecstatic about this project because the skill of the residents has gone up considerably," Dr. Clifton tells 3D And while the simulators are currently limited to neurosurgery, he hopes that will change. "This is a very specific and universal development at the same time," Dr. Clifton tells the publication. "We hope that other clinics around the world … can use them, and eventually this will improve outcomes and lives all over the world."

It's already improving lives in Florida. Mayo Clinic Magazine reports that "three of Dr. Clifton's patients recently benefited from his applications of 3D printing. The unique models contributed to surgical planning sessions, helped to pinpoint precise diagnoses, and guided postoperative management choices." It's likely to help even more patients in the future. According to the magazine, the Department of Neurologic Surgery is now "heavily engaged in planning for dedicated neurosurgery 3D printing space and a materials science laboratory based on the ideas and infrastructure Dr. Clifton helped create."

Which means the Clifton family soon may have more space at home.

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