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Published on May 15, 2017

How 3D Printing is saving lives

  • 3D Printing is used to create artificial organs
  • 3D Printing implemented in cancer research
  • How lives have been changed due to 3D printing

3D Printing and the creation of artificial organs

3D Printing has been used in the medical field for many years, as discussed previously in the 3D Printing for Medical and Anatomical Models Blogpost. Recently some development in this field has occurred. The possibility of creating artificial blood vessels with 3D printing is one example. A new research project, led by nanoengineering professor Shaochen Chen, has shown this. He tries to tackle one of the biggest challenges in tissue engineering: creating lifelike organs and tissues with functioning vasculature. Meeting the characteristics of real blood vessels, such as transporting blood, nutrients and waste is a very tough process. Especially with the goal to do all these things safely inside the body.

After creating a 3D model of the vessels, detailed microvasculature structures in extremely high resolution can be printed. This is done with the help of millions of microscopic-sized mirrors, which are each controlled to project patterns of UV light. After that, the patterns are shined onto a solution containing live cells and light-sensitive polymers that solidify one layer at a time in continuous fashion and thus, create a 3D solid polymer scaffold encapsulating live cells that will grow and become biological tissue.

Artificial blood vessels made by 3D printers have been transplanted into animals such as mice and monkeys. There were some positive results, for instance the successful merge between the artificial vessels and the host. The 3D printed artificial blood vessels do not yet meet the same requirements as natural blood vessels. This means there is still a lot of work that has to be done, before artificial organs made by 3D printers, such as blood vessels can be successfully transplanted into a human body.

Cancer Research and the influence 3D Printing has

Scientists have recently developed another use for 3D printing which serves to save lives: a better way to treat several different tumours. By 3D printing tiny balls of cancerous cells that mimic those seen in patients, new ways of testing drugs to combat tumours and new insight into how their structure alters the way cancer can grow and behave come to light. It makes finding the right balance between killing cancer cells and preserving healthy tissue easier. This can lead to more personalized, and hopefully more successful treatments.

Another example of how 3D printing is able to contribute to the treatment of cancer patients, is the story of a 54-year-old man who had a cancerous bone tumour. Because of the tumour, his rib and chest case had to be replaced by a 3D printed implant.The combination between 3D printed parts and chest implants is the thing that makes this whole matter stand out. It’s a combination that is not a usual method of treatment. It also made the process safer and reliable. The personalization of a part is much easier when using a 3D printer, than using the normally used implants.The way a 3D printer can make an almost identical copy of the chest and ribcage is groundbreaking and reduces the risk of implications.

Changing lives with 3D Printing today and in the future

Besides the possible future development of creating artificial organs, 3D printing helps to save, improve and change lives. Examples of this appear more and more in popular media. Take, for instance, the example of how 3D printing helped saving the life of a 5-year-old girl. She had an extreme rare heart defect, which made it difficult for the surgeons to know how to perform the operation. To help them, a 3D model of the 5-year-old’s heart was printed. This made a huge difference before the successful heart operation, because the surgeons already learned how to deal with the situation beforehand. This case helped other surgeons realize the usefulness of 3D printing in the medical field. Printing out exact 3D models of patients’ organs, especially in cases pertaining elderly or young children, gives doctors a chance at a better preparation of an operation. This makes for higher chances of successful operations.

This was also the case with a heart operation of a newborn child. The child was born with a complex form of congenital heart disease. In addition to that, a large hole in the heart was present. The lifesaving surgery of this baby was again helped out by the technique of 3D printing.

Yet another different successful implementation of how 3D printing saved lives, is the story of three infants whose airways were so tiny, they almost died because of it. Exhaling was almost impossible for them and that’s why 3D printed plastic stents had to be made. This ensured that the children were able to breathe again.

Success stories like these are appearing more and more on newsmedia.

3D Printing in general makes it easier for doctors to provide their patients with personalized treatment. Besides helping with the preparation of a surgery and producing tumours to learn from them, lives are being changed on a whole different level. 3D printing gives new improvements to amputees in former countries of war such as South Sudan. A project to learn the inhabitants how to use 3D printing to create personalized prosthetics has been launched. Another example is that of a school project, where students designed and 3D printed prosthetics for children. Because of such projects, 3D printed prosthetic limbs are able to change lives all over the world. Another example of personalized 3D printed aid, are hearing devices. The devices can be much more accurately customized to fit each unique user.

3D printing has been saving lives since its implementation in the medical field. And we expect it will be doing so for many more years, at a growing pace. Want to start changing lives yourself? Contact us for more information.


Pictures retrieved from Collective Evolution, Fortune, Endandit, Notimpossible & Uscdnews.