3D printing: from cardiology to cartilage

30 April 2018

1 May 2018 

3D printing is transforming treatment for congenital heart disease (CHD), according to a review paper published today in JACC: Basic to Transitional Science, while UK researchers have reported a breakthrough in bioprinting of human tissue materials.

In the past decade, cardiology in particular has benefitted from developments in the emerging technology. Replicas of a patient’s heart can be printed and used for precise and tailored pre-surgical planning and simulation, potentially reducing operating time and surgical complications.

‘3D printing is rapidly evolving in medicine, with technical improvements in printers and software fuelling new and exciting applications in patient care, innovation, and research,’ said the paper’s lead author Dr Shafkat Anwar, a paediatric cardiologist at Washington University in St Louis, US.

As well as using models to plan and reduce the risks of specific patients’ surgery, 3D-printed heart models could see a shift in focus away from the apprenticeship-focused model to simulator-based training for physicians, reducing the learning curve associated with understanding the complex anatomy of the human heart.

Dr Anwar and his colleagues predict that the next advancements will be driven by improvements in printer technology and materials.

Printable materials that mimic human tissues are currently under development. As human tissues often combine stiff and soft material, such as bone and cartilage, it is difficult for bioprinting to replicate human tissues, as the polymers used in printing have an exceptionally low viscosity when in a liquid state.

Last week, researchers at the Universities of Huddersfield and Birmingham, UK, announced a potential breakthrough in 3D bioprinting using gel particles as a suspended media, which could allow medical professionals to produce a synthetic replica of defective tissue based on data from a patient’s MRI scan.

‘With very low viscosity materials, when you lay down the first layer, it collapses under its own weight and doesn’t retain its shape. When you put the next layer on it won’t integrate,’ said Dr Alan Smith, Reader in Biopolymer Materials at the University of Huddersfield.

‘[Using gel-suspended media] lets you print in 3D with these very low viscosity materials and they don’t collapse, which allows you to build a shape,’ he said. Once the part has solidified, the gel can be washed away.

The article states that the team’s manufacturing process allows for the use of a wide range of polymeric materials, including many already approved by regulatory bodies.

‘Ultimately, it has the potential to produce structures that could make their way into clinical trials in the relative short term,’ the paper states.

The paper describes the creation of tissue ‘scaffolds’ that could be used in the production of plugs to repair cartilage defects.

PhD student Jessica Senior is now working with Dr Smith on applying the suspended manufacture process to a 3D bioprinter, and how different types of cell material can be integrated. Research could also examine the integration of stem cells into the system.

Belgrave Square.

If you’re interested in developments in 3D bioprinting, SCI’s Biotechnology Group and Fine Chemicals Group are holding a free-to-attend event, where leading researchers will present the latest developments in 3D bioprinting technology at SCI’s London headquarters on the evening of Tuesday 5 June 2018.

For more information on the 3D Printing in Biomedical Sciences event and book your free place, click here.

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