Customised 3D is transforming healthcare, with a number of new uses and discoveries being made with this technology. 3D printers allow scientists to take into account each individual patient, tailoring cures and treatments in a way that would be otherwise impossible. Throughout the world, there are reports of 3D printers providing quick and relatively simple cures and solutions to serious medical conditions.
The company Organovo have announced a commercial launch of 3D printed liver cells that can function for over 40 days. They’re currently being used in pharmaceutical trials; however the company predicts that within the next 10 years, we could see 3D printed livers, hearts and kidneys. When you think of the thousands of people worldwide who are waiting for a new organ, it’s easy to see why this technology is starting to be seen as essential in the healthcare industry.
Scientists at Washington State University modified a 3D printer in 2011 to bind chemicals to a ceramic powder, making intricate scaffolds that enabled bone growth in any shape. They are now working to implant the printed bone scaffold with growth factors in a way that will allow it to become dissolved by natural bone, even bones that bear weight.
Prosthetics have traditionally been very time-consuming and expensive to make, and don’t easily allow for modifications for those who use them. 3D printing has been used in Canada to create low cost, quick to make prosthetic sockets that can be easily customised to a number of different uses.
The University of Glasgow have designed a prototype 3D printer that can assemble chemical compounds at a molecular level. The aim is that one day, patients would go online with a digital prescription, buy the chemical ink and blueprint, and then print their drug at home. Louisiana Technical University has already achieved biodegradable, biocompatible devices for delivering bone cancer medicines.
Tissues containing blood vessels
Harvard University are currently in the progress of printing blood vessels, which is seen as a crucial step in printing bodily tissues with a blood supply. A custom built 3D printer and dissolving ink are used to create a swatch of tissue containing interwoven skin cells and structural materials that have the potential to be used as blood vessels.
At Cornell University, 3D photos of human ears have been used to create ear moulds. By filling these moulds with a gel of bovine cartilage cells and collagen, the ears held their shape. The same team has gone on to 3D intervertebral discs for use in spinal complications.