How Fusetec is revolutionising medical training

Adelaide-based Fusetec is 3D printing human body parts—complete with realistic, anatomically accurate bone, skin and muscle—for use as teaching aids during surgical training.

Fuestec’s revolutionary medical devices can be designed and manufactured to simulate specific pathology, such as, tumours, broken bones or defective heart valves, enabling student and surgeons to practise specific procedures.

According to Fusetec’s Chief Executive Officer, Mark Roe, “In the real world, medical students study at university for five years to obtain their degree. During this entire time, surgical students rarely dissect human flesh—students develop these skills during their hospital residency. This means that most first year surgical residents are performing dissections for the very first time on extremely expensive cadavers, or on real patients at a high-risk to both the patients and the surgical residents.”

“So, I decided to manufacture highly realistic human body parts for surgical training purposes. Students learn how to hold a scalpel, how to make a cut, and how to use other medical implements before practising on human beings. Plus, our 3D printed body parts don’t have any of the inherent risks associated with cadavers—there is no bacteria, no strict storage and disposal protocols, and no regulatory burdens. Our medical devices are mass produced, cheap, readily available, and come with pathology on demand. Fusetec is taking medical training out of the 17th century and into the 21st century,” said Roe.

An unconventional beginning

Founded in April 2017, Fusetec had a somewhat unconventional beginning. “When I was introduced to advanced manufacturing, the theory behind Industry 4.0 was compelling. I could really see a future in it,” said Roe.

“After spending time researching in the United States, I knocked on the door of Stratasys in Minnesota, and discovered the epicentre of 3D printing. I decided I liked their tech and wanted to bring it back to Australia. So, I had the technology, but I needed to find a problem to solve—I was an entrepreneur in search of a problem.”

Once back at home, Roe considered the three major manufacturing industries in South Australia: aerospace, defence and medical. He quickly landed on medical. “By opting to work in the medical industry, we could develop our own IP, with global applications.”

It was then that Roe started canvassing medical professionals and academia to pinpoint that all-elusive problem to solve. The three most commonly cited issues were a lack of cutting guides, medical implants, and patient-specific models. However, Roe was not keen to pursue a business model based on personalised manufacturing.

“Looking these advanced manufacturing business models, I just couldn’t make sense of them. Prototyping and personalised manufacturing just weren’t the right fit for us. By developing our own IP, we could mass manufacture and export 3D printed human body parts to the world. From a company perspective, this minimises peaks and troughs in production and sales.”

“So, I asked myself, what is fundamentally wrong with surgical training? I started digging around and found that surgical training is one of the last frontiers in the world that utilises an apprentice-style training model, rather than a systemised process. I thought: here is the problem we can solve. So, I bought the world’s best tech and assembled a great R&D team, and Fusetec was born,” said Roe.

A hard sell

Collaborative working relationships did not come easily for Fusetec.

“It was a bit of a difficult start to be honest. There are three major universities in Adelaide. I knocked on their doors and had conversations with various stakeholders, but no one wanted to buy into our vision. However, I felt that we were onto something and could achieve great things. So, I bought the equipment and assembled a team,” said Roe.

“Once we had the first couple of prototypes, I took them to the University of Adelaide and was introduced to local Otolaryngology Head and Neck Surgeon, Professor PJ Wormald. He was impressed and commissioned us to create a product: the sinus trainer. We have been working with Professor Wormald for over 18 months now. Each week, we develop something new for Professor Wormald and then every single Tuesday we go into surgery with him. He critiques our product. He is helping oversee our R&D.”

Following the success of the sinus trainer, Fusetec signed a contract with University of Adelaide. Their R&D team has now relocated to the University’s campus, and the university’s medical research division is overseeing Fusetec’s research. As a result, Fusetec now has a team of researchers and surgeons helping them develop an extensive product range.

Despite a somewhat rocky start, Roe firmly believes that collaboration—particularly between industry and academia—is important to the future of the Australian manufacturing industry.

“Fusetec is collaborating with two universities on four projects right now, from software development to material development. We simply do not have the skills in-house to do this. We are developing new IP with commercial implementations. This new IP will make our products vastly superior to anything on the market. To maintain relevance—to be a cutting edge company—you need to collaborate.”