We have been listening to for many years that the 3D printers they will be the future of medicine, among other many fields, but they are already in our daily life or we have to wait until the technology is more mature?
To print three-dimensional objects in a multitude of materials (different types of plastic, resin, titanium, other metals etc.) opens up a huge range for a multitude of applications. Focusing on the medical field, have this capability it represents a individualization of treatment enormous, and can customize virtually every physical part that we offer to the patient.
In medicine there are many fields in which the 3D printers are assuming a breakthrough. We do a review of them focusing on things that we can see to day of today and what we have to wait.
Creation of custom prosthesis
It is what first thinks one speaking of 3D printing: create individualized prosthetic pieces. “Classic” prostheses are extremely expensive and, even though the commercial houses offer different models with a variety of sizes, a total similarity with the patient is practically impossible.
Using models through Imaging (computed tomography mainly) we can create pieces that fit 100% with the unique Anatomy of the person to be treated.
In addition, these printed pieces have a lower price, that are created as needed and do not depend on both large companies that historically have cornered the market. The lower costs is especially important in children: these will grow and we will have to replace the prosthesis when they are small. More affordable prices allow us to replace the prosthesis time, with security that each place will be perfect at that moment.
He has been the field where he first had presence 3D printing. Sometimes the classic “brackets” can be replaced by aligners/retainers of plastic materials. These are more aesthetic than conventional braces since they are transparent and they are more comfortable since they can be removed for eating.
The price used to be high, but the arrival of 3D printers has allowed a reduction in the same, is even possible for the orthodontist have own professional 3D (with prices starting from EUR 4500-5000) printer, allowing to reduce the price and offer a more precise and individualized treatment.
There is even a recent case of a student of design, tired of his smile with a couple of poorly positioned teeth and its low budget, decided to print their own orthodontics with the 3D printer at his University, with a great result. Although (just like the author of the same), we advise against this practice, it is a tremendously curious case.
You are starting to create bioimpresoras able to reproduce human tissue
In classical clinical trials phase of the use of the drug in humans is always preceded by the use of animal models. This increasingly generates more controversy, claiming the associations for the defence of animals some method to avoid animal experimentation.
Today this phase is essential, the use of living tissues 3D printings represents a an alternative to short-medium term. Yet the number of tissues available for it is extremely limited (mainly liver tissue), but the good news is that it is already possible to use. Maybe in a future possible formation of an organism with all its organs in which experience, although this open another different ethical debate.
Dr. Anthony Atala shows a kidney created with a 3D printer during a TED talk
The lack of organs for transplantation is a highly topical issue. People today live longer, with implications for an increase in the number of people requiring a new organ. In addition, awareness and technological advancements of the vehicles have led to a large decrease in traffic accidents.
This is obviously a cause for celebration, but unfortunately they were an extremely important source of young patients with healthy organs that died and could become donors. Therefore, the establishment of bodies supported printing 3D becomes a priority in the medical field.
Now, despite this perhaps the terrain in which the technique go greener. The main problem facing us is that the solid such as liver or kidney organ have a lot of blood vessels, which are impossible to reproduce with current technology biological properties.
Progress is being made on the creation of organic matrices, which prints the “scaffolding” organ populating it with cells that create the organizational structure of the body and the blood vessels. The results are promising, but still modest. We still have a long journey to “print us” a kidney when we our us fails.
Probably Organovo, a biotechnology company based in San Diego, which is most moving in this aspect. Today day offers services of biological tissues for realization of research (such as the previously mentioned), while the processes of creation of actual bodies in study.
Skin is the only organ in which the 3D printing is starting to be used more immediately (I recommend the talk TEDx Madrid on the matter, brief and very interesting). This is because blood vessels run beneath the skin, allowing lay on our “printed” skin and use vessels already present in the patient, avoiding the problem we have with other bodies.
It is not really a print as such (not printed “plastic” to replace the skin), but that printer is used to get the growth of skin cells in a more automated manner which when done “manually”, using as a substrate of the patient’s cells.
There are many patients who take 5-10 pills a day, usually elderly, with diseases that require precise control of dosages.
3D printers enable the creation of custom pickups that combine various types of active principles. It could end the “I take half the red pill, a quarter of the yellow and two of the green”, and can reduce all this to a single compressed in every shot. This would avoid omissions and incorrect dose.
It would also create custom kids pills, minimizing that they acquire the sick role: give pills with fun ways could make it easier to treat children with chronic problems.
The problem that has taken this technique has been the 3D printers to work through heat-moulded, being incompatible with the use of drugs since they lost their pharmacological properties with high temperatures.
This has been solved with the use of the technical estereolitografica, in which the materials used as a vehicle for the active principles are cured. This means that, by applying ultraviolet light, we get the material solidifies, safeguarding the properties of medicinal compounds.
Interestingly, this technique is the most ancient in the realization of 3D parts, but it had not been used before for this purpose.
While it is very promising, there remains enough to see widespread use of printers in this area. Yet they have not been approved for medical use, and drug tests are limited to a very small number of them. They are necessary larger clinical studies.
As we see, although promising, 3D printers require some travel to become something everyday in the medical field. By visiting Famegi (pioneer in Granada in 3D printing) we explain how little by little different health professionals will be requiring such services. The first, as we mentioned, have been orthodontists. This is because that parts used by them are not implanted in the body, so it required biocompatibility of them is smaller and easier handling. Gradually more professionals are adding to their daily practice these techniques.
A world of prosthetics, drugs and printed bodies in three dimensions is far away, but we are going to make progress.
Bonus: 3D in prosthesis for animals
Not only we we were going to take advantage of 3D printing. With very basic pieces we can help our four legged friends to cope with limitations.
And if not, tell to Derby and new legs!