3D Printed Body Parts - Need a new skull or maybe a heart?

The 3D printing industry is booming. From the 3D printer's beginnings as a tool for architects and engineers, its applications have since diversified and are now growing roots within the medical and aesthetic industries. Once upon a time it was miraculous that one could print a 3D model of a building, now the miracle is the 3D printed heart, livers, skulls and other body parts. In a short space of time we have moved from the realm of science fiction to science fact, a few years ago who would have thought we could print an organ?

You may have seen recent headlines on the 3D printed gun craze but let’s not let that overshadow the more significant scientific achievements that are currently under way in 3D printing. At present there is a global shortage of transplantable organs and even with those organs available, there are issues with bio-compatibility and rejection. The 3D printing of organs could be the solution to organ transplants.


Let’s begin with the 3D printed skull. As with all 3D printing, firstly a 3D digital image must be produced before printing the physical piece. With the printed skull, a scan is first conducted on the patient in question using MRI or CT, this produces the digital model giving details of the damaged section of the skull to which the 3D printed model will be produced from.

The printer prints this damaged section of the skull in a biocompatible material, primarily polyetherketoneketone (PEKK), which is a polymeric material that hardens upon cooling.

Natural skull surface characteristics can be mimicked to encourage natural cell growth around implant and importantly to trigger bone attachment to the surrounding skull.

It takes approximately a mere 2 weeks to produce this invaluable implant which can benefit those who suffered from recent traumatic experiences and also those with bone cancer.

Previous implants included those made of bone grafts and titanium, the latter being heavy and carrying the possibility of setting off airport metal detectors. Now this more advanced and lightweight material has been made which has its obvious benefits.

This 3D printed implant was developed by a U.S. based company, Oxford Performance Materials, and has been FDA approved this year. The company plans to begin product diversification, large scale production and shipment oversees.


3D Printed Heart Tissue

Replacement hearts are in high demand and even though these cannot be fully 3D printed at present, vital and fully functioning replacement heart tissues and blood valves can be.

With the heart valves, a a spherical shape is 3D printed using a biodegradable material. Blood valve tissue can then be bio-printed and cultured on this scaffold. The product is a fully functioning and bio-compatible organ that is ready for transplant.

This work is being undertaken at the University of Missouri from where a spin-out company named Organovo has since been set up to further develop these products and bring them to market.

As mentioned, a fully 3D printed heart is not yet a thing of reality, but at Arizona State University, 3D printed hearts are being produced although not of the living and functioning kind. 3D printed plastic models of patient’s hearts are being produced from CT scans and MRIs as a model for doctors to study prior to heart surgery. This way doctors can more accurately locate the problem at hand to prepare for a more precise surgery.


3D Printed Bladders and Kidneys

A scientist named Dr. Anthony Atala at Wake Forest Institute for Regenerative Medicine, North Carolina, has been a principal figure in the field of regenerative medicine over the years.

Spanning over the past decade, Anthony has been developing replacement bladders with the use of modified standard ink jet printers and 3D printers. Simply put, he 3D prints a biodegradable scaffold of a humans bladder, in small, medium and large sizes, to which he then can bio-print even and successive layers of a patients bladder cells, which were previously cultured post-biopsy. The cells on this artificial scaffold are then specifically nurtured and incubated so that they grow to eventually produce a fully functioning bladder ready for replacement.

Dr. Atala has been conducting clinical trials on these bladders since his first transplantation over 10 years ago. Due to the success of these trails, he is now focusing on other organs such as kidneys, livers and also skin.


3D Printed Skin

Again in the spotlight, Wake Forest Institute this time in collaboration with the Armed Forces Institute for Regenerative Medicine have developed a skin printer that can print cells on wounds, thereby speeding up skin healing time dramatically.

At present, trails are only conducted on mice, but since trials are showing excellent results, with wound healing decreasing from 5-6 weeks down to 3 weeks, the next stage is to conduct trials on pigs and eventually humans.

If successful, this could revolutionise the way skin injuries are treated. The Armed Forces has hopes to be able to use this regenerative medicine on injured troops and Army personnel.

Work on skin printing is also being conducted by Dr. Lothar Koch and his colleagues at the Laser Centre Hannover in Germany.


3D Printed Nose

Fripp Design and Research Ltd. U.K., which have been in operation for over 3 years now, have developed an artificial 3D printed prosthetic nose. This nose, unlike the other bodily parts mentioned previously, is not composed of any natural bodily material, but still provides satisfactory results for patients who have had their noses removed due to cancers or other injuries.

The nose is produced from a structured material which is then soaked in silicone to increase its durability. Advanced imaging is taken before hand to match the nose to the persons facial structures and skin tone. Fripp Design’s noses are already in use.


3D Printed Ear Demonstration from Cornell University

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Comments 1 comment

CereusGraphics 2 years ago

Thanks a lot for this beauty Enjoying article with me. I am appreciating it very much! Looking Forward to Another Great article. Good luck to the Author! All the best.

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