Brain surgery is intricate, high-stakes work. So mastering it on a real, live patient, with an attending physician breathing down your neck and watching your every move, certainly can't be easy. Enter the 3D printing industry, which has already played a major role in medicine, from churning out noses and eyeballs and blood vessels to developing a pen that could potentially draw bone in real-time.

Doctors at the University of Malaya in Kuala Lumpur have conjured up a 3D-printed skull that has different layers for the skin, bone and membranes that make up a human brain. The latest 3D printing technology has allowed researchers to tailor the feel and texture of each layer, yielding a proxy brain that's pretty darn close to the real thing.

Students can use these makeshift skulls to practice extracting a tumor fully or to learn how to drill into the skull with the right amount of force—skills they couldn't learn with older skull models, which used homogenous materials. The models can also be customized, harnessing a real patient's brain makeup to serve as a simulation for specific surgeries. A tumor, for example, was recreated by feeding plastic into an existing brain cavity, which was itself constructed from the actual brain scans of a patient.

So what's next? The team has already started making models that mimic the ebb and flow of blood and brain fluids. And at $600, this is certainly a good option for doctors who'd like their trainees to go through the motions in a safe space, before stepping into the bright lights, high stakes, and live brains of the operating room. [New Scientist]