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Ringing in Another 3D Printed New Year

As with every other industry at this time of year, December marked a busy time for the additive manufacturing world.  Innovation stops for no holiday – and this season was no different.

We begin our monthly update in China.

TCT Magazine reports on yet another astounding medical breakthrough fueled by the wonder of 3D printing.

“A group of Chinese medical researchers have used 3D printing to create natural blood vessels.  Scientists at Sichuan Revotek developed the world’s first bio-printer in 2015 and have finally begun to produce fully functional blood vessels.  The process uses bio ink made up of living stem cells from rhesus monkeys, before the printer fuses layers of new cells to the old ones.”  Eventually, the new and old cells will start growing as one.

Kang Yujian, Chief Scientist at Sichuan Revotek, explains: “in five days, the new layer of endodermis will be formed.  Meanwhile, the smooth muscle cells will grow as well.  Within 28 days all these cells will go through tissue differentiation.  That means the tissue we implanted will have mingled with the original ones and grow into a regular vessel.  This is unprecedented.”

Following the development of this astounding bio-printer, the scientists began experimenting on 30 rhesus monkeys.  “After months of observation, scientists discovered the 3D printed vessels had completely blended.”  More importantly, all the monkeys remained in good condition as well.

Sichuan Revotek’s new bio-printer is so efficient “ten-centimeter blood vessels can be printed in just two minutes, thanks to its two nozzles.  At the heart of the technology is a stem cell culture system.  This consists of seed cells and bio-links filled with growth factors and nutrients.  When combined with other materials, the 3D bioprinter creates layered cell structures, [which] can be cultivated to form tissues with other physiological functions.”

Dai Kerong, an Academic at the Chinese Academy of Engineering, is astounded at this marvel: “printing 3D blood vessels is quite remarkable.  If we can apply this technology to blood vessels then we can also use it on livers, kidneys, and other organs.  That is how groundbreaking this technology is.”

This technology was hard at work elsewhere in the medical industry as well.  3D Printing Progress reports on yet another fascinating biomedical breakthrough facilitated by 3D printing.

Researchers from the Georgia Tech Manufacturing Institute and the Piedmont Heart Institute have collaborated to create a tool to aid cardiologists plan surgeries with far more precision for patients with heart valve disease.

“Using highly detailed imaging from CT scans, mechanical engineers are using 3D printers to make an exact model of an individual patient’s heart valve.  These one-of-a-kind models not only represent the size and proportion of the heart valve but can also mimic its physiological qualities – such as how it feels and responds to pressure.”

Heart valve disease, or more accurately aortic stenosis, is a condition where “the valves in the left side of the heart narrow, restricting blood flow and potentially leading to heart failure…the 3D printed heart valve models are particularly useful in planning a minimally invasive procedure called transcatheter aortic valve replacement (TAVR), during which heart doctors use a catheter to deliver a prosthetic heart valve to replace the patient’s impaired valve.”

As Chuck Zhang, a professor in the Stewart School of Industrial and Systems Engineering explains: “the prosthetic valves are readily available in a range of types and sizes from multiple manufacturers; however, one of the most important factors for a positive outcome is matching up the patient’s natural heart valve with a prosthetic of the right type and size.  That’s where the 3D model comes into play.  The issue is, everybody is different.  [For example,] a male will be different than a female.  It’s a big challenge for the doctors to select the right type of…prosthesis for a specific patient.”

Zhen Qian, chief of Cardiovascular Imaging Research at the Piedmont Heart Institute adds: “the 3D printed models hold great promise for use in preparing for heart procedures.  The results are quite encouraging.  Our printed model is able to tell you before the procedure how much paravalvular leakage there will be and where it is, a good indicator for short and long-term mortality.”

These models are printed using a multimaterial 3D printer.  Additionally, “Zhang has been experimenting with embedding sensors on the models as well, using a machine that can print nanomaterial-enabled circuitry on the wall of the valve.  The sensors could potentially be used to monitor how much a prosthetic valve strains or deforms the model.  With this sensing capability, the printed heart valve also can be used as a phantom to monitor pre-surgery practice.”

“So far, the researchers have printed almost two dozen heart valve models based on actual patient imaging.”  As Zhang predicts: “there is big potential for these models.  We’re thinking in the future, this may be a standard tool for pre-surgery planning and for training new surgeons.”

Beyond the field of healthcare, 3D printing software also saw improvement.  3D Print reports on yet another software launch from 3D printing giant 3D Systems.  3D Sprint 2.0 is the latest iteration of software for several of the company’s plastics 3D printers.

Specifically, 3D Sprint 2.0 will work with ProJet 1200 and ProJet MJP 2500 series printers “and will begin shipping with these immediately.  3D Systems will announce at a later date when [this updated software] will support their other plastics 3D printers.”

3D Sprint 2.0 “reduces the need for users to divide projects between multiple software programs, thus streamlining the 3D printing workflows into a simplified process and saving users time and money.”

Brand new “software features [allow users to perform] advanced operations like part splitting, offsetting, and part quality checks.  [3D Sprint 2.0] can also accommodate .stl, .obj, and .ply file inputs.”

“The system is easily scalable and flexible, to adapt to rapid material and print technology innovation…this tool can help accomplish modeling objectives for 3D printing applications, which reduces the need for any additional software.  There are also easy-to-use modeling wizards available, that come with their own automated tools…you have the option of loading 3D Sprint 2.0 build files created on another system directly to your printer, or submitting print jobs directly from the Print Workspace.”

“Users are now able to effectively streamline their 3D printing processes with 3D Sprint 2.0, which can decrease the cost of ownership for any 3D Systems plastics 3D printers, as you’ll no longer need to purchase expensive software seats from any third-party vendors.”

Ian Sayers, 3D Printer and Scanner Sales for Hawk Ridge Systems, which is a partner of 3D Systems, put it best: “3D Sprint 2.0 is the fastest and most reliable user interface we’ve ever used.  Having a single piece of intelligent software [capable of creating] estimates on numerous virtual machines makes our operations more nimble, and the level of interoperability sets a new standard for what people will expect from 3D printing interfaces in the future.”

What new standards for other aspects of the 3D printing industry will we see in the coming year?

Stay tuned to Replicator World to discover right along with us!


Image Courtesy of TCT Magazine

Quotes Courtesy of TCT Magazine, 3D Printing Progress, and 3D Print  


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