CSI Pretoria: medical 3D printing to help forensic center in criminal investigations – 3DPrint.com

Like other forensic facilities around the world, South Africa University of Pretoria (UPS Forensic Anthropology Research Center (FARC) is adept at using 3D printing technology to aid forensic experts in missing persons cases and develop suspicious leads in violent crimes. The FARC’s modern forensic anthropology laboratory, equipped for the processing and analysis of human remains, carries out approximately 100 skeletal analyzes per year for the South African Police Service and the Forensic services. Lured by the convenience of using 3D printing in forensic reconstructions, FARC researchers began to describe many potential applications that can benefit from 3D replicas, even outside of their department.

In March 2022, the FARC announced their decision to set up a 3D printing facility for other divisions of UP’s Faculty of Health Sciences. And with over 600 academic staff and thousands of students, there is a strong demand for 3D printing replicas of bones and organs, such as brains, hearts and livers, which can enhance healthcare, research and student education.

Ericka L’Abbé, director of the FARC and professor of biological anthropology, has a long experience of 3D printing. She is one of the masterminds behind the European Union-funded Bakeng in Africa project, a digital repository of skeletons that builds on global advances in 3D research to identify unknown persons in forensic anthropology and will be particularly useful for advances in medicine and education in South African universities . Abbé and his team are accustomed to using different scanning modalities to create high-quality 3D renderings of bones that can be converted into meshes and 3D printed.

Ericka L’Abbé, a professor at the University of Pretoria, holds a 3D impression of a traumatized skull from the Bakeng se Afrika trauma workshop. Image courtesy of University of Pretoria.

Eager to share her knowledge, L’Abbé said the benefits of 3D printing anatomical models and more would especially benefit her colleagues in orthopedic surgery and prosthodontics (one of the branches of dentistry that deals with the replacement of teeth missing). FARC postdoctoral researcher Alison Ridel is already working towards this goal and is collaborating with medical expert in prosthodontics Alwyn Fortuin on digital methods to reconstruct a face before and after tumor resection.

Ridel will help the surgeon process the patient’s 3D cone beam computed tomography (CT) data before and after surgery to provide 3D impressions of the face so Fortuin can visualize the surgical procedure and explain it to the patient.

“In the case of body structures, it is much easier to visualize the structures and make informed decisions based on a physical object than a flat image. By adding the third dimension for teaching and patient treatment purposes , we can leverage valuable additional information to improve results,” L’Abbé explained.

Teams can also use a scanner to make a 3D mesh of a patient’s soft or hard tissue, which can be 3D printed and used by the surgeon during preoperative planning.

A digital reconstruction of a micro-XCT scan of a mandible

A digital reconstruction of a micro-XCT scan of a mandible. Image courtesy of University of Pretoria.

To make the facility work as planned, L’Abbé hopes to attract students who can handle 3D imaging processing and 3D printing for doctors. Furthermore, the expert is keen to engage in transdisciplinary and collaborative approaches across various faculties and disciplines to take full advantage of advanced imaging technologies in higher education institutions and in the workplace. Moreover, by encouraging students to learn 3D image processing and printing, it will help improve the work readiness of UP students.

One such 3D printing expert at UP is Marius Loots. The expert is part of L’Abbé’s team at the FARC, and as the first technical operator, he takes care of everything related to 3D printing software and hardware. Accustomed to leveraging the capabilities of 3D technologies such as fused filament fabrication, stereolithography and selective laser sintering, Loots said medical services would greatly benefit from the technology. For example, UP students could 3D print a standard set of teeth to study dental morphology.

To showcase the technology available at the facility, the FARC team performed a 3D surface scan on the UP Vice Chancellor and Principal Tawana Kupe, which was then 3D printed.

“When people start seeing a mesh or a 3D print from Professor Kupe or Professor Tiaan de Jager, Dean of the Faculty of Health Sciences, they start thinking about applications of this technology in their own disciplines,” said declared the Abbot. “A 3D printed person makes technology real and accessible to everyone, regardless of discipline.”

A 3D printed model of Professor Kupe from the University of Pretoria made in collaboration with the Forensic Anthropology Research Center and the 3D scanning and printing teams.

A 3D printed model of Professor Kupe from the University of Pretoria made in collaboration with the Forensic Anthropology Research Center and the 3D scanning and printing teams. Image courtesy of University of Pretoria.

The Abbot, whose work derives from Erasmus+ grants funded by the Education, Audiovisual and Culture Executive Agency (EACEA) of European Commission, is looking forward to seeing what UP’s “forward-looking” faculty can do with 3D printing to improve people’s lives. So far, UP is known to house a collection of various types of bone trauma, like gunshot wounds and blunt trauma 3D prints, which help save the original skeletal element from destruction through the use . However, as more and more uses of 3D printing continue to flood the healthcare sector, it is clear that the technology has disrupted this sector worldwide and is already helping to improve the lives of patients and health professionals.

Mark M. Gagnon