2 min read
25 May 2021

3D bioprinting is revolutionising the health industry with its ability to print human organs. From the creation of surgical tools to tissue and organ fabrication, 3D printing can save humanity from unnecessary suffering and save lives.

What is 3D printing?

Three-dimensional (3D) printing is a manufacturing method in which objects are made by fusing or depositing materials in layers to produce a 3D object. These objects can include plastic, metal, liquids, ceramics, powders or even living cells.

3D printing is also called rapid prototyping (RP), additive manufacturing (AM) or solid free-form technology (SFF). Though the 3D printers are like general inkjet printers, the product that is produced is 3D in nature.

It is important to note that two-dimensional (2D) radiographic images can be converted to digital 3D print files. This helps in the creation of complex and customised anatomical and medical structures. 2D radiographic images include x-rays, magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) or computerised tomography (CT) scans.

Benefits of 3D printing in healthcare

Some of the benefits of 3D printing in healthcare are:

  • Increased productivity
  • Increased cost efficiency
  • Customisation of medical products, drugs, equipment
  • Development of organs and tissues

Applications of 3D printing in healthcare

  • Bio-printing tissues and organs
  • Customised implants and prostheses
  • Anatomical models for surgical preparation
  • 3D-printed dosage forms and drug delivery devices
  • Dental guides and automated suturing
  • Surgical tools and other medical equipment
  • Pharmaceutical and cancer research

For example, scientists at Pandorum Technologies arranged the liver cells into three-dimensional tissue architecture. These cells are encapsulated in a kind of hydrogel. The hydrogel or bio-ink is made up of glucose, proteins and living cells from insects. The team used an indigenously developed 3D bio-printer to bio-print mini-livers.

Dr. Stuart Williams and researchers are working on a new project at the University of Louisville that allows doctors to build a 3D printed heart using live fat cells. The heart will be known as a 'bioficial heart'. With the help of Oxford Performance Materials 3D printer, 75% of a patient's skull was replaced with an implant called steoFab Patient-Specific Cranial Device. The implant was made from a PEKK polymer which is similar to bone.

Depending on the functionality, print materials and size, the prices for Stratasys' line of 3D printers range from Rs. 4 lakh to Rs. 4 crore approximately. It took Pandorum Technologies Rs. 1 crore to print 10 million human liver cells in order to produce 5 mm-sized liver tissues. Scientists and surgeons who want to use 3D bioprinting for organs and surgical tools can avail of a doctor loan to leverage these costs.

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