The engineer who 3D printed his own brain

Steven Keating’s remarkable career saw him tackle mechanical engineering, materials science, film making, robotics, medical sciences and 3D printing.  When diagnosed with a brain tumor, he enrolled in medical school so he could analyze and study his tumor.  He 3D printed his own brain, and presented his findings to the PhD panel at MIT.

Steven Keating’s Curious Mind

Steven Keating graduated with degrees in mechanical engineering, materials science and film making in his home country of Canada .  That would have been sufficient to launch a successful career for most people.  But not for Steven. He enrolled at MIT in 2010 to pursue a PhD degree in mechanical engineering. He continued his search for new devices and technologies by pushing the limits of engineering, media technologies, biology, robotics and 3D printing at MIT. 

Diagnosing the Brain tumor

Steven had participated in a brain study purely out of curiosity as an undergraduate student in 2007.  His MRI revealed a dime size irregularity in his brain in the area that controls the sense of smell.  He was asked to continue with his life and seek immediate attention, if he experienced symptoms such as headaches or issues with his sense of smell.  When he suddenly started smelling vinegar in 2014, he realized that something was wrong and went to see a doctor.  The doctor performed new MRI which revealed a baseball size tumor in his brain which required emergency surgery. 

Analyzing the tumor

Dr. Antonio Chiocca, a top neurosurgeon at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston performed Steven’s brain surgery.   After the surgery, Steven wanted to analyze his brain tumor by looking at 10 hours of surgical data. He asked for his medical records and digital files.  Unfortunately, the hospital regulations prevented the doctor from releasing his data. Without skipping a beat, Steven enrolled in medical school so he could access the data as a medical student. And that was while pursuing a PhD in mechanical engineering at MIT!

The one who 3D printed his own brain

In his PhD degree presentation in 2016, Steven showed 3D printed models of his tumor as well as 3D printed slices of his brain to the panelists at MIT. He was humorous and presented his findings with a sense of wonder and excitement.  He passionately discussed his fascination with various devices and additive manufacturing technologies which ranged from cellular biology to robotic building construction, and everything in between. 

The future of building design and construction

One of the most exciting discoveries he discussed during his PhD presentation was about the ability to construct entire buildings using 3D printing.  His robotic device to construct buildings using 3D printing was purchased by NASA for use in future missions to the Moon and elsewhere.  This remarkable young man eventually succumbed to his brain cancer at the age of 31 in 2019.  RIP and thank you for lighting the way for the rest of us.

Title Image:  Keating, Steven. (2014). MRI cranial slices of astrocytoma patient in 2007 and 2014. Zenodo. doi:10.5281/zenodo.16852  Creative Commons CC0 1.0 Universal Public Domain Dedication.

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