A skull, a vertebra, an ear, a patch of skin, a cornea, dental implants … Is there anything that 3D printing can’t do in regenerative medicine? This technology is no longer reserved for one-off experiments in China or in the US, its use has become an everyday reality and keeps delivering unbelievable advances, especially in surgical services.
3D printing is computer controlled, creating unique items by adding material, layer-by-layer, until the 3D object is built. Unlike classical manufacturing that relies on the elimination of materials, 3D printing differs because it uses a range of possible “inks”. Plastics, polymer resins, ceramics, titanium, or even some living materials (e.g. cells) can be used to create more complex living tissues like skin or cartilage.
Specifically, 3D printing has revolutionised the medical field via the following applications:
• Custom implantable prosthetics: Surgeons have already succeeded in replacing a jaw bone, a fragment of skull and even a vertebra, with parts made of titanium or resin. 3D printing makes it possible to create prosthetics perfectly adapted to the morphology of each patient.
• Creating replicas to prepare complex interventions: In London, a little girl born with a heart defect was able to regain a normal life thanks to the doctors of the St Thomas’ Hospital who created an extra replica of her heart via a 3D printer.
• Drugs personalisation: The American Food and Drug Administration has allowed the production of an anti-epileptic drug, Spritam, which is precisely dosed according to the size and weight of each patient.
Despite all of these breakthroughs, 3D printing technology is still in its infancy and research is ongoing to create more complex organs, such as an entire kidney or heart, together with blood vessels and nerves that feed into these organs.
Lamiaa, Consultant, Leyton France