3D printing technology is changing the course of healthcare, helping patients get what they need sooner in their care.
Modern medical professionals have the capability of completing complex surgeries that have, in the past, not been possible because of technological issues. With the help of 3D printing, many of those technological barriers are no longer a problem.
The recent success of a group of Spanish surgeons in the implantation of a 3D-printed sternum and ribs points out the unique beneﬁts of blending technology and surgical expertise to provide what was barely a dream only a few years ago.
The patient—a 54-year-old man who had developed chest wall sarcoma, a cancer that targets the rib cage—needed to have his sternum and parts of his rib cage removed as part of his treatment.
But traditional replacement options presented too many concerns and problems. For example, available prosthetic sternums and ribs tend to loosen over time, creating signiﬁcant complications. The doctors from Salamanca University Hospital in Spain began seeking a better solution.
Using equipment owned by Australia’s Commonwealth Scientiﬁc and Industrial Research Organisation’s 3D printing facility located at Lab 22 in Melbourne, device company Anatomics created a custom-designed sternum and ribs to match the unique needs of the Spanish patient.
The process began by obtaining 2D images of the affected areas. Those images were then stacked to create a usable 3D model of the patient’s sternum and ribs. At that point, the model was used to create an anatomically correct replacement sternum and ribs from semi-ﬂexible titanium.
In order to do this, an electron beam was aimed at titanium powder to melt the metal and create layer after layer of titanium in the correct shapes. Because the process is customised to meet a speciﬁc patient’s needs, it can allow medical professionals to quickly resolve a variety of issues not readily addressable in the past.
Although these are the ﬁrst successfully implanted 3D ribs, researchers have created other body parts, including dental components and skull implants. It is clear that 3D printing in medicine is advancing rapidly.
The very nature of creating body parts using technology may seem a little eerie to some people, but 3D printing for medical reasons is expanding and, with the the collaboration between Anatomics and the Spanish’s success, the future expansion of the technology is almost guaranteed.
Many believe organs created using the 3D printing technologies are likely to become a much more common reality in the near future, and that the technology should be viewed more as a dream than a nightmare.
3D bio-printing is being explored as a way to construct nerve cells, glands, bone, as well as noses and ears. Of course, other body parts and organs are also being developed by scientists working with 3D printing technology experts.
The Wake Forest Institute for Regenerative Medicine is currently developing groundbreaking 3D-printed skin cells that can be applied directly to wounds and burns where a patient’s skin has been destroyed. That would be a signiﬁcant development for burn and accident victims, as the technology would remove the need for painful grafting.
While the small number of 3D printers capable of creating complex human body parts currently prevents the wide adoption of the technology that is certain to change as future successes are publicized.
“Our hospital of the future, from our point of view, is going to have a patient go to the hospital, you scan them and immediately next to that operating table you can print them that scaffold,”said Dr. Mia Woodruff, a leader of the Biomaterials and Tissue Morphology Group at Queensland University of Technology.
That means patients needing immediate attention would not be required to do without the best care options. Indeed, they would beneﬁt from the latest medical advancements, including 3D printed body parts needed to extend their lives.