How Will 3D Printing Be Used in Healthcare?

3D printing is a rapidly growing industry that has the potential to impact many markets, including healthcare. From biostructures comprised of cells to assistive devices and surgical tools, 3D printing has a plethora of uses and is only just starting to leave its mark in medicine. Read on for some of the top uses of this exciting technology in healthcare as well as corresponding news stories.

Forming Cornea Tissue to Combat Blindness

Pandorum Technologies, an Indian bioprinting startup, has recently used 3D printed cornea tissue to facilitate the healing of wounds in the eye. Using a novel hydrogel, the company’s bioprinted tissue promotes scarless healing of wounds in the cornea through a regenerative process. Corneal opacities were estimated by the World Health Organization (WHO) to account for 7 percent of all blindness in 2010, making the condition among the most common causes of blindness. Additionally, 20 percent of all childhood blindness is estimated to be caused by corneal defects. With 12 million people waiting for corneal transplants worldwide, emphasis has been put on 3D printing as an alternative source of replacement corneas. Read more

Replicating Intricate Structure’s in Human Organs

A recent innovation in 3D printing allowed bioengineers to recreate the intricate human vascular systems, marking a breakthrough in bioprinting organs. This work, featured on the cover of the May 3 edition of Science, involved a hydrogen model of the lung’s oxygen exchanging sacs known as alveoli. This work was led by Jordan Miller, a bioengineer at Rice University, and Kelly Stevens of the University of Washington, and included work collaborators at Rice, UW, Duke University, Rowan University, and a Massachusetts design firm known as Nervous System.

“One of the biggest road blocks to generating functional tissue replacements has been our inability to print the complex vasculature that can supply nutrients to densely populated tissues,” explained Miller. “Further, our organs actually contain independent vascular networks — like the airways and blood vessels of the lung or the bile ducts and blood vessels in the liver. These interpenetrating networks are physically and biochemically entangled, and the architecture itself is intimately related to tissue function. Ours is the first bioprinting technology that addresses the challenge of multivascularization in a direct and comprehensive way.” Read more

Aspect Biosystems Using 3D Printing in $2.2M Cancer Research Project

Aspect Biosystems, a 3D printing company based in Canada, was recently selected to carry out a $2.2 million project developing cancer treatments. The company’s microfluidic 3D bioprinting platform will be utilized in this project to create physiological, high-throughput tissues to be used in the screening process for immunotherapy treatments. These bioprinted tissues will hold utility in testing therapeutics designed to target hard-to-treat malignancies like triple negative breast cancer. This work will involve collaboration from pharma giants Merck and GSK, as well as McGill University’s Goodman Cancer Research Centre in Quebec.

The Goodman team, led by Morag Park, will be working with Aspect Biosystems to create tumors from breast cancer patients’ cells. Aspect Biosystems’ 3D printing expertise will be used to generate tissues that contain these cells, ultimately forming a model that can be used to test new drugs. Not only will these bioprinted structures evaluate the efficacy of such treatments, but they will be able to predict a patient’s response to the treatment as well. Read more

Surgically Treating Bone Fractures

Researchers from the Shijiazhuang Third Hospital in China have recently used 3D printing technology in treating rib fractures of five different patients. Surgical intervention has become an accepted treatment for multiple rib fractures and 3D printing offers an effective means of creating accurate models to prepare surgeons for the operation. This work was recently published in the Journal of Cardiothoracic Surgery.

Rib fractures account for 55-80% of all chest injuries, and are typically treated with local compression via bandages, rib traction, mechanical ventilation and other techniques. Surgical treatment is becoming accepted by more and more doctors; however, issues in this treatment of rib fracture present when the bone is extensively fragmented. This makes it particularly challenging for the surgeon to put the pieces together and decide where to make incisions.

3D printing can alleviate this issue by generating realistic models of the bone fracture that surgeons can use to pre-shape rib locking plates before the operation. These 3D printed models are created using thin-layer CT scans of patients before the operation. Read more

3D Printed Robotics in Knee Surgery

Miniature surgical robots that are unique to the individual patient’s anatomy are being created by researchers from the Australian Centre for Robotic Vision. At the head of this project is Andrew Razjigaev, who first created a snake-like robot prototype to aid in knee arthroscopy last November. Razjigaev now plans to create multiple SnakeBots that attach to a RAVEN II surgical robotic platform, working together to enhance operations. These devices are 3D printed at a low cost to fit the specific dimensions inside a patient’s knee.

The computational design algorithm used in this project generates on-of-a-kind SnakeBots that are unique to each individual patient’s body. The chosen design is most suited to fit in and flexibly move around within the joint capsule. The SnakeBot allows the surgeon to see inside the knee as well as manipulate tools for the operation. The inexpensive, 3D printed device is disposable as well.

This robotic surgical system has the power to revolutionize scope-driven surgeries, according to Jonathan Roberts, Centre Chief Investigator of the Queensland University of Technology-based Medical and Healthcare Robotics Group, and Associate Investigator Ross Crawford. Crawford is also a practicing orthopedic surgeon; therefore, he is very familiar with arthroscopic operations of the knee. Read more

Jack holds a biology degree from Penn State University, and has a keen interest in how new medical technologies are changing the future of healthcare. Reach out to Jack if you have a compelling story idea or with feedback about past articles.