Maki Sugimoto believes that 3-D printers can take medicine — and mankind — to the next level.

Dr. Sugimoto, a surgeon and associate professor of gastroenterology at the Kobe University School of Medicine, is a pioneer in the field of research and development, as well as clinical applications, of 3-D body-imaging and surgery-navigation systems. During a seminar at the annual meeting of the Japan Society for Endoscopic Surgery in December, Sugimoto showed how 3-D printers have made it possible for doctors to make personalized human organ models from two-dimensional CT and MRI images of patients.

"We can create life-size copies of the organs of patients, such as of the liver, gallbladder and the pancreas by outputting their CT-scan images through a 3-D printer," he said. "And we can have two different kinds of (thermosoftening) plastics injected in layers, with each layer measuring 0.016 millimeters in thickness. With a combination of the two materials, we can shape and color the models in different ways, such as making them in semi-transparent colors or changing their firmness and textures."