Why 3-D Printed Fetuses Represent the Future of Medical Imaging

A 3-D printed fetus might seem strange, but it represents an opportunity to improve medical education and imaging.

Clear rosin represents the mother’s tissue, while the fetus is suspended in white.
Clear rosin represents the mother’s tissue, while the fetus is suspended in white. Nlab

In the future, scientists hope to be able to 3-D print whole organs for implantation in those who need them. But first, some baby steps: the 3-D printed fetus. Part memento for parents, part medical imaging advance, the fetus takes 3-D printing into the womb.

Smart Planet explains how the fetus printing is done:

The miniature, 3D replica of your fetus is created through an MRI scan, and then the image is given dimensional shape through 3D software. Once this is complete, clear resin is used for the mother’s body, and white resin is used to take on the same of the fetus, constructed through a 3D printer.

To get your personal 3-D fetus, you have to head to the clinic in Japan and shell out 100,000 yen, or $1230.

While this might seem creepy to you, especially considering the little pre-tyke comes in a cute jewelry box, this kind of 3-D printing could actually be quite useful. The 3-D model is way better than an ultrasound at visualizing just what the fetus looks like.

Applied to other organs and cells, this 3-D printing could make medical imaging and teaching far easier. Imagine a medical student learning about the heart while manipulating a 3-D printed model of his or her own. Or students in high school seeing printed versions of their own egg and sperm cells (magnified of course). Rather than slides on the screen or even cadaver examples, a 3-D printed fetus turns the idea of a thing into a visceral experience.

More from Smithsonian.com

A 3-D Printer Goes to Work for the Smithsonian

Fetal Genome Sequenced Without Help From Daddy

Get the latest stories in your inbox every weekday.