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Dem Bones, Dem Bones, Dem 3D Printed Bones: Building a Human Osteology Study Collection from Medical Data Scans

by Bernard K. Means

The Virtual Curation Laboratory at Virginia Commonwealth University (VCU) is teaming with VCU’s Forensic Science Department to build a human osteology study collection from medical scan data, especially that collected in the form of CT scans and archived as public data by the National Institutes of Health (NIH).  This effort is led by Terrie Simmons-Ehrhardt, a researcher in VCU’s Anthropology Department who is working in VCU’s Forensic Science Department.  Simmons-Ehrhardt is carefully examining the publicly available data for human bones suitable for study, particularly those showing trauma or evidence for degenerative diseases.  The latter bones are not always available in commercially available study collections, even as replicas, which makes building physical and digital study collections challenging and also costly.  Fortunately, once the digital human bone data is edited, it can be readily and inexpensively printed using 3D printers, such as those in the Virtual Curation Laboratory.

Dr. Simmons-Ehrhardt holding a fractured humerus

Terrie Simmons-Ehrhardt holding a fractured humerus

The fractured humerus printed in the Virtual Curation Laboratory.

The fractured humerus printed in the Virtual Curation Laboratory.

Over the coming months, the Virtual Curation Laboratory will contribute additional 3D printed elements to the Forensic Science Department’s human osteology study collection.

A 3D printed lumbar vertebra.

A 3D printed lumbar vertebra.