Today, most professional spinal surgeons can relate to how delicate it is to carry out certain procedures as well as how a single mistake can lead to grave consequences for a patient. Therefore, having prior knowledge or experience of the procedure before carrying out real operations is critical, and this is especially true for trainee surgeons.

This is precisely where the project led by Nottingham Trent University come into play — it aims to impart trainee surgeons with the tactic knowledge of how it to partially remove or drill into vertebrae before performing real-life procedures on patients.

The models feature hard outer layers as well as a softer center — they’re created with powder printing technology to produce a lifelike porosity of real bone. The models are actually aimed at surgeons looking to undertake procedures that have to do with the removal of bone tissue.

Professor Philip Breedon of the university’s Design for Health and Well-being Group says, “Consultants undertaking delicate and precise procedures like spinal surgery need as much knowledge and experience as possible as part of their surgical training before going into live operations.”

He added, “One error can lead to catastrophic, life-changing consequences for a patient, so it’s imperative that surgeons can prepare themselves thoroughly.”

“This research will enable clinicians to experience how performing spinal surgery feels both physically and mentally, but in a safe training environment.”

Consultant spinal surgeon, Professor Bronek Boszczyk of Nottingham University Hospitals Trust also happens to be a part of the project.

The professor said, “This is an innovative project which has resulted in the development of spinal models which look, feel and behave like real bone.

These models will enable surgeons to practice very delicate procedures in a training environment which will give clinicians increased confidence before they undertake real spinal operations.”

It’s important to note that the technology was designed by Postgraduate student Joseph Meeks as part of his MSc in Medical Product Design.

Meeks said, “Until a surgeon goes into a live operation, he or she has very little knowledge of how it feels to perform spinal surgery.

He added, “This research provides consultants with a realistic representation of spinal surgery which allows them to learn in a safe and calm environment.

“By better communicating these experiences, we can improve the skills of surgeons in the classroom and help enhance operative outcomes for patients in real life.”

The next phase of the project is to design replica bones which vary in strength to give surgeons a lifelike experience of carrying out surgical procedures on patients with conditions like osteoporosis. Hopefully, the technology will be used in the classroom within the next few years.