A trauma center in the Netherlands is using 3D printing technologies to improve the treatment of trauma patients, especially those who are admitted with bone fractures. The technology is being explored at the Elisabeth-TweeSteden Ziekenhuis (ETZ) trauma center by a team of trauma surgeons and researchers.
At the ETZ, one of 11 trauma centers in the Netherlands, PhD candidate Lars Brouwers is testing the effectiveness of 3D printing for trauma treatment. He has been tasked with the job of transforming medical scans of bone fractures into patient-specific 3D printed models. The 3D printed bones are then being used as pre-surgical aids for doctors and as explanatory models for patients.
Brouwers, along with ETZ trauma surgeons Mike Bemelman, MD and Koen Lansink, MD, believe that physical 3D printed models can offer surgeons a better and clearer understanding of a patient’s injury than 3D models visualized on a 2D screen.
Picture this: you need a medicine but your illness is so rare that the required drug is extremely expensive and not widely available. Or maybe you are travelling and the drug you need can’t be easily shipped all the way to you. Could three-dimensional printing offer a solution? Could a local, 3D-printed mini-factory make medicine for you?
Three-dimensional printing, which builds up layers of materials to print a product, is making its mark in the world of medical devices, opening up new ways to make implants and biocompatible scaffolds.
Using the technology to manufacture medicines is still niche, but interest is there. A 3D-printed drug has been approved by the Food and Drug Administration in the United States, and researchers are starting to prise open the potential of 3D printing low-cost equipment to build the chemicals needed for drugs.
Before inserting and expanding a pen-sized stent into someone’s aorta, the hose-like artery that carries our blood away from the heart, surgeon Jason Chuen likes to practice on the patient first. Not for real of course, but in plastic.
Which explains the 3D printer in his office and the brightly coloured plastic aortas that line his window sill at the Austin Hospital in Melbourne. They are all modelled from real patients and printed out from CT scans, ultrasounds and x-rays.
“By using the model I can more easily assess that the stent is the right size and bends in exactly the right way when I deploy it,” says Mr Chuen, Director of Vascular Surgery at Austin Health and a Clinical Fellow at the University of Melbourne.
New research into 3D printed medicine has shown – for the first time – that a combination of inkjet printing and UV curing can produce, “solid oral dosage forms” of drugs.
The research opens the door for personalized medicine, improvements in small scale clinical trials and “functionally graded dosage design.”
University of Nottingham scientists working with pharmaceutical company GlaxoSmithKline (GSK) conducted the study “3D Printing of Tablets Using Inkjet with UV Photoinitiation.”
Jas Coles-Black is a final year medical student, and a Research Community Coordinator at Research Platforms Services at The University of Melbourne where she grows her community in medical 3D printing. As part of the #3DMed initiative, she is an avid proponent of 3D printing in the medical space.
What is 3D printing?
3D printing is a broad term used to describe several additive manufacturing techniques, where structures are built by depositing material layer by layer. This is in contrast to more traditional manufacturing techniques, which involve moulding and manipulating the materials of interest. It has been hailed as ‘the next industrial revolution’ that could fundamentally change the status quo, and the way we practise medicine.
Bioprinting and Regenerative Medicine
Bioprinting is one aspect of 3D printing, and involves combining living cells, biocompatible materials and biochemical substances in order to create tissue-like analogues. This enables the creation of biological and organ substitutes for research and clinical purposes, such as the fabrication of artificial organs for transplantation. 3D printing has been used in regenerative medicine not only to print scaffolds, which can be subsequently seeded with cells, but can also involve printing tissues using actual cells.