Barack to the future: Fusetec is 3D printing body parts to disrupt a $7.6 trillion global industry

Fusetec co-founder John Budgen

Fusetec co-founder and chief operating officer John Budgen. Source: supplied.

While a cadaver might set you back $100,000, 3D printing startup Fusetec is creating realistic body parts for a fraction of the cost, as it sets out to disrupt a $7.6 trillion global industry.

“Cadavers are costly and generally in short supply,” Fusetec’s co-founder and chief operating officer John Budgen tells StartupSmart.

“There’s a lot of red tape with one, getting them, and two, maintaining them before they get operated on, and then destroying them.”

Universities typically spend $1.5 million maintaining cadavers, Budgen says, but Fusetec’s highly realistic student models start at about $1,460.

Until recently, Fusetec was entirely bootstrapped by Budgen and co-founder Mark Roe.

Budgen says the pair “took the leap of faith”, dedicating two-and-a-half years to developing their prototypes and consulting with practicing neurosurgeons to refine their products’ anatomical accuracy.

It was a few months ago that a group of angel investors signed the dotted line for an undisclosed sum, giving the startup a much-needed boost.

The co-founders “conservatively” expect to see $100 million in turnover in the next five years, which Budgen says, based on the conversations they’re having with global universities, they’re on track to achieving.

He credits this to the limited options currently available in the medical field and the quality of Fusetec’s models.

The high degree of realism offers surgeons and students the chance to practice their skills individually and without cadavers, which are traditionally shared between small groups of students and dependent on availability.

When asked how realistic the models are, Budgen says the detailed texture of each layer of the head, including the skin, bone, spinal fluid and brain tissue, will be developed to a point where it will bleed once under the knife.

Building on the expertise of local neurosurgeons, such as Professor PJ Wormald and Dr Adam Wells, the printed models can also replicate specific brain complications such as tumours, addressing another limitation to practising on cadavers.

The feature was implemented to help future students and surgeons develop “hands-on, haptic” experience in specific procedures before operating on patients, something that virtual reality (VR) alternative teaching models lack, Budgen says.

In an effort to spread the word, the co-founders are currently on the conference circuit, showing off their accessible and cost-effective prototypes.

In fact, attendees at the University of Adelaide’s sinus surgery course were last week offered a chance to test their technique on a realistic bust of the former US President, Barack Obama.

Fusetec is currently expanding the tech’s capabilities into other anatomical areas, including the ear, thorax, eye and heart. It is also developing models for nurses who rely on live patients to practice skills, such as wrist cannula insertion.

Working with a Chinese distributor, Budgen imagines models will soon be customisable, allowing for different versions, symptoms and levels of detail.

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