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March 2017: 3D Printing and the Medical World

The world of additive manufacturing is always busy at work, disrupting hundreds of different industries.  (For the better!)  It may be in medicine where it’s having its most revolutionary impact, at the moment, though.  This is not only the case when it comes to modelling and mapping out certain procedures – but also when it comes to creating tangible solutions out in the real (non-virtual) world as well.

Let us begin our virtual tour of 3D printing’s impact on the medical industry in the arena of robots.  3D Print caught wind of a brand-new article in the scientific journal Nature Protocols.  This article, “a modular approach to the design, fabrication, and characterization of muscle-powered biological machines,” was written by the researchers Ritu Raman, Caroline Cvetkovic, and Rashid Bashir from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign’s Department of Bioengineering.

In plain English, the researchers have essentially published a recipe for 3D printed bio-bots.  As Raman, Cvetkovic, and Bashir explain: “the protocol teaches every step of building a bio-bot, from 3D printing the skeleton to tissue engineering the skeletal muscle actuator, including manufacturers and part numbers for every single thing we use in the lab.  This protocol is essentially intended to be a one-stop reference for any scientist around the world who wants to replicate [our results]…and give them a framework for building their own bio-bots for a variety of applications.”

These bio-bots are more than capable of adapting to their environment.  “3D printing has been a major impetus for the progress seen here in robots, through allowing such advances in tissue engineering and regenerative medicine.  The biomaterials of today now allow for the creation of what the researchers call ‘smart responsive machines,’ able to work in a range of different applications.”

As their ‘recipe’ explains: “the 3D printing revolution has given us the tools required to ‘build with biology’ in this way.  We re-designed the 3D printed injection mold to produce skeletal muscle ‘rings’ that could be manually transferred to any of a wide variety of bio-bot skeletons.  These rings were shown to produce passive and active tension forces similar to those generated by muscle strips.”

“In writing the paper and releasing their bio-bot ‘recipe,’ the researchers are hoping to see others not only appreciate and re-create their work – but to improve on it as well.  The team hopes this is just the beginning as scientists everywhere are able to begin meeting current challenges in medicine and science.”

Perhaps even more exciting than bio-bots, however, is how medical professionals from all over the world (and with any means) can now access (and print!) 3D models.

3DPrint ran another feature focusing on the medical company EchoPixel.  According to EchoPixel’s website, the company “renders patient-specific anatomy in an intuitive, interactive virtual reality format, leading directly to increased clinical knowledge, faster operations, and better care.”

“True 3D, from EchoPixel, is an advanced medical visualization software solution.  It offers physicians an unprecedented opportunity to view and interact with patient tissues and organs in a truly 3D form, as if they were real physical objects.”

“Virtual reality tools from EchoPixel are already in use at such medical centers as Stanford University, UCSF, the Cleveland Clinic, and Cook Children’s Hospital – the last of these even having established a dedicated 3D lab bringing together 3D printing with EchoPixel technology for use in heart surgery applications.”

EchoPixel’s new 3D printing capabilities were “built on the foundation of the company’s True 3D Viewer software, which converts DICOM data sets into life-sized VR models.  Already able to virtually interact with the models, these users will now be able to set the desired anatomy and orientation, then send it off to be 3D printed.”

EchoPixel cites the many advantages of 3D modeling in medical applications: “improved communication and collaboration among different members of the surgical team,…enhanced pre-operative planning and better interactive understanding of unique anatomy [which] can be used as a reference during surgery, mirror-image modeling used for reconstruction templates, practice on models for surgical residents’ resident work hours, and increased patient education.”

Ron Schilling, EchoPixel’s CEO, is excited about the prospect of his company using 3D printing technology: “3D printing is a game changing technology, but it’s not yet accepted as a widely effective clinical tool, primarily due to the cost and time restrictions.  EchoPixel’s Interactive Virtual Reality is a complementary technology that can enable truly effective 3D modeling for the first time.  It has the potential to dramatically reduce time and cost investments.”

“[EchoPixel’s True 3D] provides fast and easy methods to create 3D models and export them to a 3D printer.  It also allows medical professionals to import 3D models for quality assurance of complex, material object print cases.”

Not only can medical professionals now easily print 3D models to aid them with complex surgeries – but they can also print medical devices and replacements which can even be put into living, breathing bodies!

3Ders reports on the launch of a brand-new marvel of bioengineering.  Structo, based in Singapore, “has launched what it is hailing as the ‘world’s fastest dental mold 3D printer.’”  They call it the DentaForm 3D printer.  It was unveiled at the Association of Orthodontists Singapore (AOSC) 2017 Show at Marina Bay Sands.

Structo entered the dental 3D printing market almost exactly a year ago, with the launches of their “first two products, the OrthoForm and the high-speed OmniForm 3D printers.  Structo’s 3D printing products, which are based on the company’s proprietary Mask Stereolithography (MSLA) technology, are specifically designed and built for applications within the dental industry, such as making molds in a quick and efficient manner.”

Structo’s brand-new DentaForm 3D Printer is ideal for specific dental applications such as “printing accurate, highly precise models for fitting crowns and bridges in the field of restorative dentistry.  [This] new 3D printer boasts a build platform for 200 x 150 mm and a printing accuracy of 50 micrometers along the x/y axes.”

As Structo’s Co-Founder, Huub van Esbroeck, explains: “we are revolutionizing digital dentistry by breaking through the speed limits of 3D printers today.  The Structo DentaForm [3D Printer] will open up a whole new range of dental applications that can now work with our lightning-fast Mask Stereolithography (MSLA) technology.”

Dhruv Sahgal, Structo’s Head of Business Development and Sales, elaborates: “customers who have experienced the speed of MSLA through the OrthoForm have been asking for a higher resolution solution for the printing of precision models.  Today we are excited and proud to bring that solution to market with the DentaForm [3D Printer.]”

Even more astounding was a case which occurred this month in India:

Hindustan Times reports on a miraculous surgery which just took place at a hospital in Gurgaon, India.  “A 32-year-old woman got to walk again after the successful implantation of the country’s first 3D printed artificial vertebrae.”

The woman, who had spinal tuberculosis, is a teacher.  The team of surgeons who helped her walk again was led by Dr. V Anand Naik, who is a Senior Consultant of Spinal Surgery at The Institute of Bone and Joint.  Dr. Naik’s team “replaced the damaged vertebrae with a 3D printed titanium vertebra to bridge the gap between the first and fourth cervical vertebrae.”

The doctors explained: “the surgery took 10 hours as the first, second, and third cervical vertebrae were severely damaged to the extent that there was no skeletal support available between the skull and lower cervical spine.”  Dr. Naik elaborated: “it was a very complex surgery and the patient’s condition was deteriorating by the day.  It would not have been possible to do…without 3D printing technology.”

Dr. Naik’s team “used computer software to plan every detail of the surgery.  The titanium cage was customized according to the patient’s original spine.  The high-resolution CT and MRI scans of the spine were uploaded [to] the software and a dummy of the spine was 3D printed to measure the surgical resection between the first and fourth vertebrae.  Finally, the 3D titanium implant was printed, which was to be placed in the body.  The titanium vertebrae was further tested for biomechanics and stress risers after receiving inputs from the design team in India, Sweden, and the USA.”

Dr. SKS Marya, who is the Chairman for the Institute of Bone and Joint concluded “our team of doctors has introduced a path-breaking solution in a complicated case such as this.”

While 3D printing does continue to revolutionize the world around us – perhaps the most marvelous aspect of this disruptive technology is how it revolutionizes the world inside us as well.

Image Courtesy of the Hindustan Times

Quotes Courtesy of 3D Print, EchoPixel, Structo, 3Ders, and the Hindustan Times   

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