In one of our previous articles, we talked about printing spare parts for merchant ships. This time we’ll talk about printing spare parts for humans. We are not there yet, but it might actually be closer than you think. 3D printed organs are being used today for surgeries, although the way it’s done might surprise you.
Practice makes perfect
In case you’re wondering being a surgeon is an extremely stressful job. Decades of studying, long hours, low pay and not nearly enough recognition for the importance of the job.
When there’s so much at stake, hard decisions have to be made on a daily basis. The “do-no-harm” part of the Hippocratic oath prevents surgeons from taking surgeries that are too risky.
When an operation is considered too high risk, alternative, safe, but less effective, methods are used, even if it means a lower chance of full recovery.
When medical students learn anatomy, they first realize that the anatomy atlas does not correspond to reality. Each patient is different. What is shown in books and plastic models rarely matches reality? The only reliable study material is human bodies donated for medical studies. These bodies are insufficient and access is restricted and in some countries not even available.
But in either case, even the best models and alternatives are worthless if they don’t match the unique case that is presented to you. The only real way to increase the surgeons’ confidence would be to give the chance to practice on an exact replica. Currently, you only get one chance to get an operation right, but what if you could try over and over again as many times as you need? What if you had an exact replica of the patient’s organs that you could use to take a look, feel around and practice on free of consequences?
It would allow us to take vital, but risky surgeries and also become better at doing the routine one.
When you think about it this is a clear case for 3D printing.
A printer needs a digital model to work from, This is often a problem as scanners are expensive and inaccurate, and not everyone has the know-how or time to create 3D models using a CAD software.
This problem does not exist for medical printing.
We already have ways to create high resolution and extremely accurate digital scans of the insides of our bodies. Whole body imaging is readily available in the form of MRI and CT scans, some can even do color.
There are already companies out there creating silicone models from scans, but the current solutions are expensive. Either they rely on complex and hard to operate custom-built machines or are handcrafted on-offs. As such they are not in widespread use and are reserved for the extreme cases (or for patients who can afford it).
Together with Inova DE, University of Heidelberg and The University of Tübingen we have set out to change this.
By combining the power of our cloud slicing API, the smart algorithms of our slicing core, and our knowledge in material science with the hands-on experience of their surgeons and expertise in medical imaging we’re working on delivering a solution that is not only capable of creating gradual hardness and texture gradients never before seen, but it does that at an affordable price and an easy to use package.
We have no intention of stopping here. Bioprinting is one of our oldest running projects, and the original goal of printing spare parts for humans is not lost. But when it comes to saving lives you have to be pragmatic. If we can deliver something today, that may not be what we’ve dreamed of, but that will save just one life there is no reason to not do it. It’s however also no excuse to stop dreaming of a future where instead of repairing, we can just replace what’s broken.
If you want to be part of this journey or just want to learn more don’t hesitate to contact us here.