Life is beautiful yet bounded by age. What if ailing hearts and failing organs could be replaced by 3D printed ones? Wouldn’t this just give us a new lease of life?
Unbelievable but true! ETH Zurich. Switzerland has devised a 3D printed soft silicone heart that pumps almost like the human one. This initial feasibility test has sprung new hope among researchers of using 3D printed more extensively in healthcare.
3D Printing and Healthcare – The Connection
Ever since Chuck Hall created the first 3D printed eye wash cup, 3D printing has made deep forays into the field of medicine with lasting effects. So what is 3D printing?
“3D printing uses computer-aided technology to create 3D objects by layering polymers or powders of metals or ceramics.”
This technological breakthrough has motivated researchers to develop several health aids and implants that have made significant advancements in therapeutic practices. In addition to this, the use of 3D printing has lowered the cost of prosthetic devices and made mobility devices easily accessible and affordable. Above all, innovations using 3D printing have increased the longevity of cells through tissue engineering.
3D Printing and The Healthcare Revolution
Many of the successful “firsts” in healthcare are attributed to 3D printing.
Bioprinting involves the use of 3D printing to combine cells with biomaterials to fabricate cell, tissue or organ-like parts that mimic the natural tissue characteristics.
Harvard University researchers used bio-ink to create a vascular tissue with channels to enable the flow of blood, fluids and nutrients. This has enabled macro scale functional tissue replacements which could be connected surgically to the living tissue ensuring their immediate perfusion and increasing the chance of survival.
Cornell University’s Lawrence Bonassar created an extra replica of the human year using bioprinting. Researchers from the University of Madrid along with James Yoo from the Wake Forest School of Medicine have created a 3D printed layer of synthetic skin which could prove to be a boon for burn and accident victims and wounded soldiers.
The Healthcare industry is harnessing the potential of bioprinting by building “organoids”. These organoids are created by laying layer upon layer of stem cells and moulding them using computerized 3D printing. These organoids are printed using bio-ink which is a slurry of cells that is printed to create layers of tissue. Organovo has been successfully bioprinting liver tissues since 2014 and has now launched their bioprinted human kidney tissue commercially.
3D bioprinting has entered the operating rooms helping the treatment of cancer patients. In 2014, surgeons used bioprinting to create a facial prosthesis for patients who had to undergo surgery for eye cancer. Similarly, in 2015, researchers found bio-printed implants to be effective in curing bone cancer and its infections.
The most significant contribution of 3D printing has been in the field of prosthetics. 3D printed splints, plaster casts and implants are flooding the market, paving the way for new prosthetics. With 3D printing, University of Toronto researchers developed cheap and customizable prosthetic sockets for the physically challenged. Similarly, Venice’s “Not Impossible Labs” used 3D printed prosthetic limbs to replace amputated ones in war-stricken Sudan. 3D-printed prosthetic limbs have helped the handicapped all over the world in Ghana, Chile, Indonesia etc. With over 30 million people in the world desperately in need of prosthetics, customized prosthetics for hip and knee replacements will soon be a blessing in disguise.
For patients suffering from multiple ailments and taking several pills, 3D printing comes to the rescue. A new “polypill” has been developed that houses 3 different drugs intended for diabetes and hypertension. With 3D printing, this pharmacological breakthrough has been achieved which enables different pills to be housed in one and being released at different release times.
A new epilepsy drug called Spritam has been created by 3D printing layers of powder in order to enable it to dissolve quickly in water. This drug has been approved by the FDA proving that #D printed drugs are safe for human consumption.
Surgeons need to rehearse complex operational procedures to ensure less trauma for the patient. But the cost of using an operating theatre for an hour is $2000 or $30 per minute. Instead of wasting such precious operating theatre time, surgeons are now 3D printed models to rehearse surgical procedures.
3D printing has revolutionized healthcare to make it more accessible, economical and customized. The scope and span of 3D printing are unimaginable in the healthcare sector but is sure to yield groundbreaking results. Let us look forward to an era of 3D printing in healthcare that will alleviate illnesses and extend life for years to come.
FrontEnders Healthcare Services is a healthcare consulting firm providing realistic solutions to the healthcare challenges in India & overseas. Our goal is to make a positive change, wherever we are and whatever we are into. FrontEnders will assist you to set up functional healthcare organizational as well as operational goals, from a long-term viability perspective. Our mission is to be a principle enabler of quality, affordable, accessible and sustainable healthcare services, globally.