3D Printer Pairs Technology with Medicine

Mark Liotta and Rohan Sawhney recently spent six hours making a liver. The two second-year students at NJMS aren’t mad scientists; they’re co-directors of the school’s new 3D Printing Project, one of the first, if not the only medical student-led 3D printing projects in the country.

The liver, Liotta explains, was for Dr. Faisal Shah, in the Department of Radiology. “It can be tough, sometimes, for people to understand what’s wrong inside of their bodies,” he says. “Dr. Shah thought that if we could print 3D models of patients’ actual organs--models that showed abnormalities specific to them--then he could use those to help patients better understand their conditions.”

Last fall, when Liotta and Sawhney joined the executive board of the NJMS Technology and Medicine Club, they began looking into opportunities to hold classes and lectures. But after talking with Associate Dean of Admissions Dr. George Heinrich, who runs the Innovation and Entrepreneurship Distinction Program at NJMS, they changed their focus to acquiring a 3D printer and teaching other students how to use it.

“It was Mark’s idea,” Sawhney says. “He had experience with 3D printing from undergrad, and I love tech. It’s one of my passions.”

“In college, we had something called a Makerspace,” Liotta says. “It was a place where students could come and collaborate, just brainstorm their ideas. I thought a good first step toward having something like that at NJMS would be a 3D printer for students to use, if they wanted to invent something medically, or for teaching or research.”

Dr. Heinrich told Liotta and Sawhney that he would help them find funding for a 3D printer, Smith Library assisted with the project, and the two began researching the best one they could afford. To save money, they bought the printer disassembled. “It arrived this past summer,” Sawhney says, “and Mark and I put it together ourselves.” Liotta adds, “That was a first for both of us.”   

Currently, the two are holding training sessions for medical students, and they’ve begun collaborating on research projects with the Department of Otolaryngology. “Prior to an operation, surgeons may print out a model of the part of the body that they will be operating on for measurement or practice purposes,” Sawhney says. The two hope to help streamline this process and reduce costs by printing out the models in-house.

Another benefit, Dr. Heinrich adds, is that “medical students and faculty will have the opportunity to use the 3D printer to develop or support entrepreneurial projects.”

The long-term goals, Liotta says, “are to have more technology at NJMS and continue to drive innovation in health care.”

And, if the liver works out, Dr. Shah is also interested in a few kidneys.
For more information about the 3D printer, Innovation and Entrepreneurship Distinction Program at NJMS, or the Technology and Medicine Club, please email Dr. Heinrich at heinrich@njms.rutgers.edu.