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Sunday, August 30, 2015

Medicine's Astonishing New World

"Ultimately, everyone will want everything 3D-printed. It's not a question of what will be 3D-printed, it's a question of what will not be 3D-printed."
"The ability to work with the [3D-printed model, pre-surgery] model gives you an unprecedented level of reassurance and confidence in the procedure."
"For surgeons who have 3D printing, most won't go into the operating room without it for a complicated procedure."
"It allows for incredible customization. This is the ultimate form of personalized medicine."
"There's great value in going to a place where you can direct a group and develop the technology the way you think it should be done."
"Ultimately, you have to show it's financially viable. But really, I think the savings are going to be unbelievable. It will happen."
Dr. Frank Rybicki, chief of medical imaging, The Ottawa Hospital
Dr. Frank Rybicki holds a 3D model of a child's heart. Models help surgeons plan and perform intricate operations. (Darren Brown/Ottawa Citizen)
Dr. Frank Rybicki holds a 3D model of a child’s heart. Models help surgeons plan and perform 
intricate operations. Darren Brown / Ottawa Citizen
The 3D printer that is on the brink of revolutionizing manufacturing, let alone medical technology, was invented in 1983 by an engineer from an American company that used photopolymers to create a plastic veneer on furniture in their manufacturing technology. During the course of his work, Chuck Hull wondered whether the same protocol used in coating furniture with acrylic-based liquids could be used to produce three-dimensional objects comprised of multiple thin layers of acrylic hardened with UV light from a laser beam.

His first, modest design has long since been improved upon; 3D printers are capable of using all manner of materials to produce the desired object; materials like metals, ceramics, sugar, rubber, plastic, chemicals, wax -- and, amazingly, living cells. The leap from concept and design to the finalized product is amazingly swift. These printers are now indispensable to researchers, to manufacturers, and even to ordinary people wanting to experiment themselves, at home.

As the printers' speed of production has been stepped up, along with their versatility, their cost has diminished, so that even home inventors can acquire these incredible devices. A home desktop version is available from Home Depot for $1,699, and the DaVinci Junior 3D printer is available from for $339.

Medical researchers are now planning to engineer implantable livers, kidneys and other body parts, with 3D printers. New limb joints made from a patient's own tissue and implantable skin for burn victims are being produced by Canadian scientists with the use of 3D bioprinters. Those 3D printers don't, however, come cheap, clocking in at $150,000.

This technology is transforming applications of medical surgeries in ways that could never before be imagined. Doctors in Britain used 3D-printed models, surgical templates and titanium implants to repair facial injuries sustained by a 29-year-old man in a motorcycle accident. A 3D-printed titanium plate solved a hole created by cancer surgery, which caused the patient's eye to sink into the hole when the diseased part of the orbital bone was removed.

Last year in Beijing, surgeons implanted 3D-printed vertebrae in a 12-year-old boy with a malignant tumour in his spinal cord. Doctors in Ann Arbor, Michigan saved a critically ill child by designing and implanting a 3D-printed splint to hold his collapsing windpipe open. Customized body parts, surgical tools, pharmaceutical drugs, and living tissues are now being designed on computers and produced with 3D printers building, layer by layer, three-dimensional objects.

In recent years, 3D printers have succeeded in producing bones, ears, exoskeletons, windpipes, jawbones, cell cultures, stem cells, blood vessels, vascular networks, and organ tissue, according to an article recently published in the medical journal Pharmacy and Therapeutics. Custom-made skull plates, knee implants, hip joints, hearing aids and dentures are now more commonly produced with the aid of 3D printers.

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