Additive manufacturing popularly called 3D Printing takes a digital model or a blueprint of the subject obtained from either an MRI scan or a Computer Aided Design (CAD) and it is printed using appropriate materials. The materials used can be either powder, plastics, ceramics, liquid or living cells making this process extremely versatile. This process is accurate, cost-effective and aids in easy manufacturing. 3D printing does not rely on any kind of moulds and hence the designs can be easily modified. This process allows for the flexibility of either making a whole product or a part/component of the product.
3D printing has various applications in the medical field. Some of the most prominent ones are:
Making organoids and bioprinting
This is done via the help of a computerised pipette that layers living cells to create a living tissue or organ in a laboratory. These printed models are a replica of the actual tissue or organ and can be used for medical research, medical education and training. Developing organs can make research a lot easier, especially for understanding cancer and curate the proper drug combinations for treating a particular disorder thus helping to come up with personalised medicine plans.
2. Organ printing
Using 3D printed organs for organ transplants would be a better and cheaper alternative to traditional organ transplants. 3D printing would make more patient-specific organs and can be repaired easily. It would negate the chances of organ rejection which is commonly seen in traditional organ transplants. Organ parts can even be printed to replace a damaged part in the body during surgery. 3D printing could also be a viable solution for developing skin grafts for burn victims. Many implants such as orthopaedic implants, brain implants and dental crowns can also be easily made.
3. Surgery Planning
Using these printed organs can act as a mock study or practice models before performing the actual surgery especially if it is a complicated procedure. Surgeons can understand and formulate an appropriate surgery plan that can help to speed up the procedures and reduce post-surgery complications in patients. These printed organs can also be used as a reference while doing the surgery.
4. Surgical Instruments
Via 3D printing, sterile and precise surgical tools can be made and can also reduce the cost of production as it utilises minimal products.
Prosthetics can be easily customised according to the patient’s needs and preferences with the help of 3D printing. It can speed up the process and produce cheaper and comfortable prosthetics with more functionality that won’t hurt or chafe the skin. Even the patient has the liberty to design the prosthetic according to their comfort.
The 3D printed products are reviewed and regulated by the FDA who also authorizes the emergency use of some 3D printed devices like the 3D printed ventilators during the time of the COVID-19 pandemic. The FDA classifies 3D printed devices into three categories.
- Class 1: These include products such as printed bandages and hand-held instruments that pose a low risk.
- Class 2: These include moderate-risk products such as infusion pumps. Products belonging to these two classes can often be exempted from undergoing any kind of FDA regulation however they must comply with the manufacturing and quality control standards.
- Class 3: Includes life-sustaining or life-supporting devices such as the pacemaker which have a very high risk to cause any kind of damage when implanted into the human body. For the FDA to approve the use of these devices, a full detailed review and clinical trial studies must be produced to the organisation.
Anatomiz3D is an Indian MedTech company that focuses on bettering the lives of individuals through making patient-specific 3D printed and bio-printed products. The company engineered the very first partial amputee prosthetic hand in 2016 and also provided a replica model for a kidney tumour case, and tongue cancer for the first time in the world. These cases helped to establish the use of 3D printing technology in India and also helped to clear out all the wrong beliefs regarding the technology.
3D printing is a convenient and cost-effective method for creating customizable one-off objects and is extremely useful for a number of medical applications. Research can be made easy and efficient with the help of printing techniques and materials that are suitable for particular medical applications, While exciting advances are being made in the areas of research, teaching, surgical planning, and prosthetics, there is still a long way to go for making personalised drugs and organ transplantation a reality.