3D printing set to add mobility to medicine manufacturing

Prof Lee Cronin: “One day people might do this in their houses but not now.”

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.

Additive Manufacturing Strategies Summit focused on the future of 3D Printing in Medicine and Dentistry

From Charles Goulding at 3dprint.com


I had the privilege of attending a two-day Future of 3D Printing in Medicine and Dentistry conference on January 22nd and 23rd in Washington, D.C. at the Army and Navy Club. The Additive Manufacturing Strategies summit was sponsored by SmarTech Markets Publishing and 3DPrint.com.

Day 1

3D Printing Medical Devices     

Day one was entitled 3D Printed Medical Devices. The opening keynote speaker was Lee Dockstader, Director of Vertical Market Development at HP Inc., whose thorough presentation set the stage for the entire conference. Dockstader wants to develop additive manufacturing in industries including Aerospace, Automotive, Medical, Dental, Life Sciences, Consumer and Retail.

Scott Dunham, Vice President of Research at SmarTech Markets Publishing, gave a comprehensive presentation that was particularly informative on the large production volumes occurring with certain non regulated low entry barrier products. The consensus estimate is that 300,000 low barrier medical devices are now 3D printed per day. Dr. Roger Narayan, Professor of Biomedical Engineering at UNC, gave a detailed presentation on the technical and regulatory aspects of additive medical markets. 3D printing has the potential to revolutionize business models and provides access to custom and functional prosthetic and orthotic medical devices.

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Carbon helps develop low-cost, 3D-printed TB testing device for developing countries

Where you live should not determine whether you live or die, to quote Bono, lead singer of the rock band U2, but, sadly, it often does. I was reminded of Bono’s phrase as I was reading about the contribution that Silicon Valley–based 3D-printing technology company Carbon (Redwood City, CA) made to the development of a low-cost, easy-to-use in vitro diagnostic (IVD) device to test for tuberculosis (TB).

Carbon TB Cassette

Of the 10 million people that contract TB globally each year, more than 40% go undiagnosed or unreported, the vast majority of whom live in the developing world, according to the World Health Organization. To address this issue in countries with limited healthcare infrastructures, the Global Good Fund (Bellevue, WA) got to work. A collaboration between Intellectual Ventures (IV; Bellevue, WA), a private enterprise involved in the development and licensing of intellectual property, and Bill Gates, the Global Good Fund spearheaded the development of an easy-to-use, affordable early TB diagnostic device. Carbon brought its expertise to the project, which resulted in the manufacture of hundreds of these devices for use in field trials.

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3D bio-printing: A medical revolution?

As medicine advances, technology is playing an ever-increasing role. The development of CT and MRI scanners to see inside patients, pacemakers to keep hearts beating, and prosthetic limbs that interact with the nervous system, have proved how valuable technology can be for our health. Has technology got our backs again, this time with an organ transplant crisis?

There is a severe need for new organs for transplantation around the world. In the last decade, nearly 49,000 people have had to wait for a life-saving organ transplant, in the UK alone. Of those, over 6,000 people have died whilst waiting – all possibly preventable if organs had been available. The issue is, with an ageing population and a safer environment, there are fewer organs available for transplant, and more organ failures requiring a transplant. The vast majority of the demand is for kidneys, with over 5,400 on the current UK waiting list.

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3D-bioprinted ears could be ‘five years away’

Patients could benefit from printed body parts in just five to 10 years, according to Reza Sadeghi, chief strategy officer at Biovia group of technology company Dassault Systemes.

A bioprinted ear (Credit: Wake Forest Institute for Regenerative Medicine)Bioprinting first generated media buzz several years ago, when researchers showed videos of ears grown in a lab and 3D-printed skin.

Since then, the bioprinting sector has been developing at light speed, thanks to computer models, lab experiments and animal trials. The major progress today is the successful development of biomaterials that can actually be used for bioprinting, Sadeghi told PE at the Manufacturing in the Age of Experience conference currently underway in Shanghai, China. He also predicted that human trials are now less than half a decade away.

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Five ways 3D Printing will change healthcare

A new study of the potential for 3D printing in the healthcare industry predicts wide-ranging advancements and disruptions as the technology is adopted by more hospitals and manufacturers.

The report, published by Dr. Jason Chuen and Dr. Jasamine Coles-Black of Austin Health in Melbourne, Australia, outlines five key areas where 3D printing will likely have the biggest impact on healthcare.

Chuen, the director of vascular surgery at Austin Health and director of the hospital’s 3D medical printing laboratory, uses 3D-printed models of aortas to practice delicate surgeries.

“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,” said Dr. Chuen.

The five areas discussed in the report include:

1. Bioprinting and Tissue Engineering: Scientists are already building 3D-printed organoids to mimic human organs at a small scale, and the report predicts that eventually hospitals will be able to print human tissue structures that could eliminate the need for some transplants.

However, Chuen says that “Unless there is some breakthrough that enables us to keep the cells alive while we print them, then I think printing a full human organ will remain impossible. But where there is potential is in working out how to reliably build organoids or components that we could then bind together to make them function like an organ.”

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3D Printing improves healthcare in drug creation and surgery planning

A popular research firm has forecasted a 10.0% of the people living in the developed world to have 3D-printed items in or on their bodies by 2019. Furthermore, over a third of surgical procedures incorporating the use of implanted devices and prosthetics could involve 3D printing as a central tool. Another research company has estimated the 3D printing market to grow from a US$0.66 bn in 2016 to a US$1.21 bn by 2020. 3D printing in healthcare has been prognosticated to bear a transformative impact of the cloud or the World Wide Web. Besides organ models, 3D printers could be engaged in healthcare to produce human skin, drugs, prosthetics, hearing aids, and medical and dental implants.

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Five ways 3D printing is changing medicine

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.

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3D Printing our way to better healthcare

In the late 1990s, a young patient required a bladder replacement, something for which a transplant wasn’t possible.  The doctors treating that patient came up with an alternative solution: make one.  They called on the expertise of the Wake Forest Institute for Regenerative Medicine to build a scaffolding in the shape of the required organ, and on that framework, they grew a bladder using the patient’s cells.  This was one of the first uses of 3D printing in the healthcare sector. Since then, 3D printing has become a significant tool in healthcare.

At the start of the 21st Century, the hearing aid industry worldwide used injection moulding and traditional handcrafts to form inner ear implants.  In that first decade, though, 3D printing began to be used, making the case into which the delicate electronics was sat such that each fitting was shaped to the ear canal of each individual patient, something that would have been prohibitively expensive, with long lead times to deliver if done using traditional techniques.  In the USA, the entire hearing aid industry shifted to 3D printed implants within 12 months, and today over 90% of the industry uses 3D printing.

That same shift is now happening in dentistry, where crowns and implants are scanned or moulds taken by a dentist, who send the required shapes to a 3D printing laboratory that then makes the necessary items to the exact specification for that patient, all in a fraction of the time that it traditionally takes.

So what is 3D printing?  Have we invented Star Trek-like replicators that can make anything in any shape, in any material?

Image result for 3d printing medicalAll 3D printing, or additive manufacture as it is traditionally known, involves making things by building them layer upon layer.  The techniques may involve laying plastic or powders on a base in the desired shape then heating or treating them to form a layer, then repeatedly doing so, building an item from the bottom up.  More recent technologies use lasers to melt metal powers and electrostatics to solidify liquid resins.

It surprises many to find that the technology is over 30 years old, and it was used primarily in designing and prototyping for much of the first 20 years, particularly in the automotive and architectural sectors.  The last 10 year has seen a significant change, though.

Today, 3D printing is a widely used, fast growing technique that is already transforming medicine.  Everyday sees news stories about an amazing application of the technology.  These range from helping surgeons to plan complicated procedures by using a 3D printed exact model of a patient’s internal organs or bones, to producing implants for joints or replace shattered bones.  Why the sudden interest and acceleration?  That comes from advances in the technology, allowing for faster manufacture and new materials to be made with higher strengths and tolerances.  It comes from the flexibility of 3D printed parts to have complex structures, and for the economic viability of producing single items with a unique shape just as cheaply as making thousands of a standard form.

Image result for 3d printing pharmaIn one example of how it is changing medicine, Joel Gibbard, CEO of Open Bionics, was recently quoted in the engineering magazine E&T describing how “the capability to produce bionic prosthetic arms for children as young as eight years old is only possible through the use of 3D printing”.  The technology reduces the time to make a prosthetic ready to wear from measurement from 3 months – when considering visiting a specialist consultant for fitting, the time taken to order and receive parts and the manufacturing process – to one day.  Moreover, the finished arm can be made lighter as the density of components can be reduced by using complex lattices rather than solid structures, something that isn’t possible with injection moulding or traditional manufacture.  This has also reduced the cost of making more sophisticated prosthetics by up to a factor of ten.

3D printing is now entering into new areas and the developments are exciting.  In the pharmaceutical space, companies are using 3D printers to make tablets with the precise dosage a patient needs, rather than treating everyone with a one-size-fits-all approach.  Some are using 3D printers to make tablets in shapes that make them more acceptable to children, easing the burden of getting them to take their medicine.

ORelated imagene company, Organvo, is producing 3D printed liver tissues that allows for the faster development of pharmaceutical treatments.  Other companies are developing 3D printed organs, such as hearts, out of materials that the body doesn’t reject as strongly as a transplanted organ would.  Others are developing 3D printed skin for the treatment of burns.  The success of early trials of these has been very positive, and promises to revolutionise healthcare.

As the technology evolves, the cost of a 3D printed item is dropping, opening up the range of patients who can benefit from it.  What does this mean to all of us?  It means that medicine is moving towards treating us more and more as individuals, with medicines, implants, and prosthetics tuned to our exact needs, and available to us faster than has historically been the case.

3D printing is one technology that is improving healthcare.  To read about others, click here.