3D Printing Inspires Medical Breakthroughs

Advancements in the medical world and technology bring along with them a hope of a better life for people who otherwise could not dare imagine leading a normal life. With cancer cures to alternate medicines to advanced surgeries, we have seen significant progress in this field. Added to this list is the 3D printing technology, which with a material like Liquid Silicone Rubber is all about creating a carbon copy of every individual's cells... in other words, a promise of a better life to those who never imagined it possible.
Megan Ray Nichols
Published on: 17th June 2016
Desktop 3D printers were once considered a novelty — a nifty piece of technology you could pick up for a couple of hundred dollars to print just about anything you could design in a computer. They’ve been used to create everything from Dungeons and Dragons miniatures to low-cost prosthetics for amputees, but until now, they’ve just been unique and functional novelties. 

However, with new advances in 3D printing technologies that allow scientists and researchers to print with biological material, these nifty machines could soon be the basis for life-changing advances in medical technology.
3D Printing Inspires Medical Breakthroughs
Introducing the Bio-Printer

3D printers usually work in plastic, metal or glass — materials that can be easily melted and re-shaped. Bioprinters, on the other hand, usually work with two materials: human tissue, and medical grade liquid silicone rubber.

Using a patient’s own tissues as a template, a 3D bioprinter can create new tissues, a transplant or a graft with zero risk of rejection because the new parts are made up of the patient’s own cells. For items or body parts that require more support or a template on which to grow, medical grade liquid silicone rubber can help to fill in the gaps.

Why Use LSR?

When there are other easily manipulable materials on the market, why is liquid silicone rubber the best option for 3D bioprinting?

The advantages of medical-grade LSR over alternative materials include:

It is easily manipulable when heated. Once it’s cured, however, it remains solid, so there’s no chance of the items losing shape due to body or environment temperature. 

  • Once cured, it can be easily sterilized using a variety of common methods (Autoclave, ETO, etc.).
  • It’s a bio-inert material, so it will not cause any adverse or allergic reactions.
Additionally, medical-grade LSR can easily be fed into a 3D printer or 3D printed mold, making it ideal to create custom parts based on scans of the patient’s body.

Right now, LSR is best used for solid replacement parts, such as bones, joints or cartilage-rich areas like the ears. As 3D Bio-printing expands, though, we’ll definitely find more uses for such a versatile material.

What Can We Bioprint Right Now?

These 3D printing-based medical advances are in their infancy, but the progress researchers have already made is astonishing. One of the most amazing examples is the case of little Kaiba, a baby boy who was born in 2011 with a severe case of tracheobronchomalacia. Basically, his trachea was too weak for him to breathe, and it collapsed. For many months, he was in the hospital attached to a ventilator which was the only thing keeping him alive.

Using a 3D printer, Kaiba’s doctors were able to create a bioresorable trachea splint that keeps his airway open and allows him to grow and live a normal life. Instead of spending his childhood tethered to a ventilator, Kaiba just recently started preschool and is a happy, healthy little boy. Other recent advances include a modified 3D printer that can scan the wounds of burn victims and print new skin directly onto their wounds. This can, of course, greatly help shorten the recovery time and improve the outlook for burn victims as well as other patients in need of skin grafts. Additionally, there has been substantial promise in printing bone replacements and even progress toward printing entire organs.

While there’s still a long way to go before 3D printed body parts like organs and bones become mainstream, the sky is quite literally the limit from here. We have the technology available to continue making these amazing advances in medicine and 3D printing. All we need now is the imagination and the willingness to achieve the incredible.
On a scale of 1-10, how inspiring did you find this article?