While advancements in 3D-printing technology have developed in industries like high tech information technology, 3D-printing technology is also making major leaps in the medical field.
Imagine for a moment a world in which we no longer needed to wait for organ donors, but had the capability to print a new liver or heart transplant.
Or when burn victims could have skin printed right onto their wounds.
The possibilities are nearly endless.
As 3D-printing breathes new life into the medical industry, a common question is asked:
Sounds great, but how does 3D-printing actually work?
3D-printing is the process of taking three-dimensional CAD drawings and slicing them in to very thin layers (as in 0.09 to 0.25 millimeters thin, respectively). Then, different printers use different materials (typically glass, metal, plastic or ceramic) and a specific binding process (generally ceramic, nylon or metal powder) to fuse the layers together to create the object. After one layer is printed successfully, the machine will move on to print the second layer.
Of course, using metal and glass doesn’t constitute printing human skin – so developments in the industry have created a sector of 3D-printing known as bioprinting. Based on the use of bio-ink (which is made of living cell structures), bioprinting is being researched in order to develop more types of living tissue for printing, while a 3D inkjet printer is used to print medical devices and tools.
Here are some amazing ways 3D-printing is being used in the medical field:
Although a full organ hasn’t yet been successfully printed, scientists are moving in that direction. So far bioprinting has successfully printed: kidney cells, sheets of cardiac tissue that beats like a real heart and the foundations of a human liver.
Developments in skin printing has led to actual skin graft printing for burn victims to apply directly to their burned area. Other types of usage for skin graft printing would be for skin cancer patients or other patients with other forms of skin diseases or afflictions.
Heart & Blood Vessels
So far, in the realm of the heart and vessels, bioprinting has created: blood vessels using artificial biological cells, a 3D inkjet printer and a laser for molding, heart repair tissues and various types of a heart patches with bioprinted cells. In fact, human cell heart patches have been successfully tested on rats and include the development of artificial cardiac tissues that mimic the mechanical and biological properties of a real human heart.
In respect to surgical tools, 3D printers have successfully printed forceps, hemostats, scalpel handles and clamps. And the best part? Not only are these tools completely sterile upon print completion, but they actually cost one tenth less than their stainless steel equivalents.
Stem cells can develop into many different kinds of human tissues, from bone to brain tissue. Now, stem cells are being bioprinted in many different labs, and are the precursor to developing all different kinds of cells. In the future, we may even see stem cell developments allowing us to grow organs or print cells directly into the body.
With developments being made in all of these areas, there are still more advances being made every day – including bioprinting for cancer research and bone and cartilage.