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3D Printing and the Body

As with many other recent months, the medical industry has once again put itself in the 3D printing limelight.  This time, the focus of additive manufacturing in this sector has been trained on body modification and enhancement.

We begin with aquatic 3D bioprinting.  3D Printing Industry reports on a new 3D bioprinting process.  This process is unique in that the 3D printing occurs in water.  This will lead to faster 3D print times.

“When working with living cells, hydrogels and bioscaffolds are typically used as support material to grow tissue.  As such, there is a growing volume of 3D bioprinting research concerning the optimal environment and materials for cell growth.  With this in mind, it becomes clear why water may be a good environment to 3D print a structure for medical use.”

Enter materials scientists Shlomo Magdassi, who led teams at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and the University of Maryland in the United States in the “research into a new family of photoinitiators for use in digital light processing (DLP).  These additives, which cause rapid solidification of a liquid material, create faster reactions when exposed to light.”  By 3D printing in water, the process allows for medical applications, “leading toward a competitive response for patient specific implants and tissues.”

“The key to rapid 3D printing of Magdassi’s team’s initiators is in their ability to split water, and absorb oxygen molecules, which typically inhibit the performance of the process.  The particles added as the photoinitiator in this case are semi-conductive metal hybrid nanoparticles (HNPs), and are used to create high-resolution 3D objects on a sub-microscopic scale…degree of polymerization in material including the HNPs is significantly faster than light-restive material used without the particles.”

As the teams concluded: “the semiconductor and metal segments can be tuned in terms of their composition, size, shape, and relative location toward optimal performance in photopolymerization and in particular in 3D printing.”  Yet again, 3D printing is the champion of flexibility and customization.

Beyond chemicals and nanoparticles, 3D printing is having an impact on lives right now.  That is why many countries are becoming more and more invested in building 3D printing facilities.  Indeed, 3DPrint has caught wind of an opportunity coming think3D’s way.  think3D, which is based in India, is that country’s largest desktop 3D printing platform.  think3D is a “subsidiary of Singapore-based think3D Labs Pte Ltd.”

Now, the Provincial Government of Andhra Pradesh, which is the eighth largest state in India, has tendered think3D to create a new 3D printing facility.  “The medical device market in India is worth $5.5 billion, and huge growth is expected in the next several years.  However, nearly 75% of the market is made up of imported medical devices, which means a monetary and employment loss for the country.”

This is the main reason why the government of Andhra Pradesh has tasked think3D with the creation of the $6 million facility.  This “facility will be part of a new medical devices park, the Andhra Pradesh Medical Tech Zone (AMTZ), which is an SPV formed…to reduce the country’s dependence on imported medical devices and promote this type of manufacturing within India.  The medical device manufacturing zone is roughly 270 acres.”  This AMTZ is part “of the central government’s Make In India Initiative, which was launched two years ago as a means of transforming the country into a global manufacturing and design hub.”

As part of its agreement with AMTZ, think3D will set up and manage “a 20,000 square-foot rapid prototyping facility, an expert 3D design facility, and a reverse engineering facility; the rapid prototyping facility will house various high-quality metal 3D printers for any SLS, SLA, and bioprinting needs.  AMTZ will purchase the 3D printers, and lease both the facility and the machinery to think3D, which will manage the whole operation at its own expense while offering 3D printing customers at the park a subsidized pay-per-use rate; a market rate will be available for any entities outside of the park.”

3D printed implants aren’t just for the future, though.  They’re also for the here and now.  Again, 3DPrint reports on a recent clearance by the FDA on SI-BONE’s patented iFuse-3D Implant, “its next generation member of the iFuse Implant System and the first 3D printed titanium implant for use in the sacroiliac joint.”

SI-BONE, a California-based medical device company, has “also announced the full commercial launch of the iFuse-3D in the US.”  The “triangular MIS iFuse Implant System…is used for fusion for certain disorders of the sacroiliac (SI) joint.  This joint is between the ilium and sacrum bones on each side of the pelvis; the sacrum supports the spine, and the ilium supports the sacrum.”

“SI-BONE developed a proprietary 3D printing technology in order to develop the implant, which features an enhanced porous surface resembling the trabecular structure of cancellous bone and unique fenestrated design; both of these features combine to make an environment promoting bone ongrowth, ingrowth, through growth, and intra-articular fusion.”

As Scott A. Yerby, Ph.D. and SI-BONE’s Chief Technology Officer, explains: “the design and development of the iFuse-3D implant was a multi-year effort.  Our goal was to expand the iFuse family using 3D printing technology to provide enhanced surface characteristics while retaining key performance features of the iFuse Implant, including superior rotational resistance, mechanical strength, and ease of use with our existing instrumentation.  iFuse-3D, with its trabecular-like surface, provides 250% greater surface area than our highly successful iFuse Implant.  Additionally, the structural fenestrations allow complete bone through growth.”

The iFuse-3D Implant’s patent “covers some of its structural design features, and offers intellectual property protection until September 2035.”

Of course, this isn’t all.

As The Independent reports, Britain’s National Health Service (NHS) will be launching “the world’s first clinical trial of [3D printed prostheses]…the 3D printed devices for child amputees, based on popular Disney characters, are designed to be produced at a fraction of the cost of current models.”

This trial will be carried out by Open Bionics, a firm based in the English city of Bristol.  Open Bionics will be “working with 10 children at a local hospital during the six-month trial.”  One such child is Tilly Lockey, “an 11-year-old from Durham who lost her hands after she developed meningitis as a baby.”

Of her new 3D printed prototype bionic hand, Lockey says it “looks awesome and makes you feel confident.  Instead of people thinking they feel sorry for you because you don’t have a hand, they’re like: ‘Oh my gosh, that’s a cool hand!’”

Open Bionics’ hands “cost 5,000 pounds [about $6,370] and only take one day to make, using cutting edge 3D scanning and printing techniques to ensure a good fit.  Currently available prosthetics with controllable fingers can cost up to 60,000 pounds [about $76,448], often prohibitive to growing children.”

This new lightweight design by Open Bionics “uses a 3D printer to create the hand in four separate parts, custom-built to fit the patient using scans of their body.  Sensors attached to the skin detect the user’s muscle movements, which can be used to control the hand and open and close the fingers…Open Bionics has won a 100,000 pound [about $127,413] award from the Small Business Research Initiatives scheme to fund the trial, which it is conducting with the North Bristol NHS hospital trust.”

Open Bionics has entered into a royalty-free agreement with Disney, which “means the devices can be based on characters from any Disney property” such as the Marvel Cinematic Universe or the Star Wars saga.  As for Lockey’s hand, it is based on the cyberpunk video game series Deus Ex.

These are just a few examples of how 3D printing isn’t just going to change the future of the medical industry – it’s already changing the industry – right now!

Image Courtesy of the BBC and The Independent

Quotes Courtesy of 3D Printing Industry, 3DPrint, the BBC, and The Independent

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