Staff profiles

Project lead
Research Assistant/Professor Kara E Yopak
Position
Research Assistant Professor / Program Manager
School/area
UWA Oceans Institute / School of Animal Biology
Faculty
Science
Team members
Prof Jennifer Rodger, Research Assoc/Prof Melinda Fitzgerald, Prof Shaun Collin, Assoc/Prof Barry Doyle, Assoc/Prof Tim Sercombe

Project outline

Understanding the brain is one of the ultimate challenges of the 21st century. However, the brain is not easily accessible, either literally or figuratively. This project will utilise 3D printing to reproduce brain models from a wide range of animals, thus making them become accessible, visible and touchable to UWA students and to the broader community, nationally and internationally.

This project will take an unparalleled collection of preserved animal brains that has been collected by academics at UWA and make them accessible by scanning them using magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) at the Centre for Microscopy, Characterisation and Analysis (CMCA) and then 3D printing them in the School of Mechanical and Chemical Engineering. This will allow students to handle, assess and measure neural characteristics in a range of animals, reducing the need to sacrifice new animals and improving ongoing conservation efforts for rare and endangered species.

The project will deliver a permanent virtual dataset of brains that can be shared as a resource nationally/internationally and 3D printed at low cost, thus delivering a product that is both viewable and textural. These printed brains will be an invaluable resource for teaching at UWA and will replace real brain specimens at numerous national outreach events and school visits. Furthermore, the 3D printable files can be made available through the UWA Online Learning Management System (LMS) which allows students to print their own sample, thus empowering students with self-directed learning and the ability to share their experience with other students, enabling a continuous transfer of knowledge.

Project findings

This project successfully delivered geometrically accurate, 3D printed brains that were incorporated into BIOL5505 and ANIM3320 units. The students were able to handle, assess and measure neural characteristics in a range of 3D printed vertebrates and were given the opportunity to print their own copies of the brains through the UWA Science Library. Feedback from the students was incredibly positive; they felt it greatly enhanced their learning experience and understanding of the variation that exists within the vertebrate brain.

The hope is to further this project in the coming years, not only to continue to use the samples generated, but to leverage existing collaborations to expand. The goal is to obtain extramural grants to move towards large-scale, multi-colour, whole body printing of animals. The project team foresee linking this project with existing community engagement projects, such as the Lotterywest BioDiscovery Centre, housed at the Harry Perkins Institute of Medical Research. In this way, this project will act as a pilot study of much larger effort aimed at 3D printing a wide range of anatomic and biological samples.

Disseminations

  • Presentation at UWA Education Futures Orion Discovery Event, Perth, 10 March 2016.
  • Demonstrator: Official Opening of Education Future’s Observatory, with Governor-­General Sir Peter Cosgrove and Lady Cosgrove, UWA, Perth,16 March 2016.
  • Demonstrator: Gave a talk for the Brain Stem elective as Santa Maria College, incorporating the 3D brain models for the students to interact with during the presentation,Perth, 22 March 2016.
  • Promotional video for the project https://youtu.be/pfoAXwzoFkI
  • Video to promote the Science Library, to demonstrate the effectiveness of the 3D printer donated by the Alumni Association - http://campaign.uwa.edu.au/because-­of-­you

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