Bainier M, Su A, Redondo RL. 3D printed rodent skin-skull-brain model: A novel animal-free approach for neurosurgical training. PLoS One. 2021 Jun 23;16(6):e0253477

PMID: 34161366


In neuroscience, stereotactic brain surgery is a standard yet challenging technique for which laboratory and veterinary personnel must be sufficiently and properly trained. There is currently no animal-free training option for neurosurgeries; stereotactic techniques are learned and practiced on dead animals. Here we have used three-dimensional (3D) printing technologies to create rat and mouse skin-skull-brain models, specifically conceived for rodent stereotaxic surgery training. We used 3D models obtained from microCT pictures and printed them using materials that would provide the most accurate haptic feedback for each model-PC-ABS material for the rat and Durable resin for the mouse. We filled the skulls with Polyurethane expanding foam to mimic the brain. In order to simulate rodent skin, we added a rectangular 1mm thick clear silicone sheet on the skull. Ten qualified rodent neurosurgeons then performed a variety of stereotaxic surgeries on these rat and mouse 3D printed models. Participants evaluated models fidelity compared to cadaveric skulls and their appropriateness for educational use. The 3D printed rat and mouse skin-skull-brain models received an overwhelmingly positive response. They were perceived as very realistic, and considered an excellent alternative to cadaveric skulls for training purposes. They can be made rapidly and at low cost. Our real-size 3D printed replicas could enable cost- and time-efficient, animal-free neurosurgery training. They can be absolute replacements for stereotaxic surgery techniques practice including but not limited to craniotomies, screw placement, brain injections, implantations and cement applications. This project is a significant step forward in implementing the replacement, reduction, and refinement (3Rs) principles to animal experimentation. These 3D printed models could lead the way to the complete replacement of live animals for stereotaxic surgery training in laboratories and veterinary studies.