Feb.4, 2014

Today on World Cancer Day, it is appropriate to take a look at some of the ways 3D printing is affecting the lives of people with these diseases – while emphasizing the possibilities 3D printing technology may offer to cancer patients, survivors, and their families and friends in the future.

1. 3D printed, customized implants

Customized, 3D printed medical implants can improve patients' healing by integrating into the body more effectively and are made using strong, hypoallergenic materials – like metals and ceramics. For example, a husband and wife duo - materials scientist Susmita Bose and materials engineer Amit Bandyopadhyay - are leading a team of researchers at Washington State University to create 3D printed implants that more closely mimic the properties of human bone, and can be custom-designed for unusual injuries or anatomy.

Using a technology called Laser Engineered Net Shaping (LENS), researchers create new implants which could integrate into the body more effectively. In the LENS process, tiny particles are blown into the path of a laser and melted. The material cools and hardens as soon as it is out of the laser beam, and custom parts can be quickly built up layer by layer. The process is so precise that parts can be used straight off the printer without the polishing or finishing needed.

2. 3D printed human skin

SkinPrint in Leiden, The Netherlands, is using stem cells as ink for 3D bioprinting human skin. SkinPrint aims to improve treatment for patients of burns, injuries, skin cancer or other skin diseases. Student team leader Ingmar van Hengel thinks that within five years hospitals should be able to make 3D printed human skin.

3. 3D printed living tissue implants

From cartilage to kidneys, 3D printing is allowing groundbreaking developments in tissue engineering. Melbourne researchers have found a technique to "grow your own" cartilage to treat cancers and replace damaged cartilage, and just last week 3D bioprinting company Organovo announced that it has delivered its first 3D printed liver tissue to a laboratory of experts outside of the company for testing.

4. 3D printed prosthetics

3D printed prosthetics can help patients in their physical and emotional recovery. One example of a 3D printed prosthetic being used in this way is case of Eric Moger, a 60-year-old restaurant manager. After suffering an aggressive tumor growing beneath the skin of his left face, Eric underwent extensive surgery to remove the cancer. He received a 3D printed prosthetic face which helps him in practical activities – like drinking – as well as allowing him to see his face in a way similar to the way it looked before his operation.

5. 3D printed radiation therapy devices

3D printed devices are being used to protect the area around superficial tumors from excess radiation during treatment. The 3D printed devices are much more precise than previous with an accuracy of up to 0.1 mm in some cases. As a result of the accuracy of these 3D printed devices, doctors can use them with better precision. This is especially important for treating skin tumors located in vulnerable areas around the nose, eyes, and ears.

6. 3D printed bionic devices

Dr. Kee Moon and Jeremiah Cox at Mechanical Engineering San Diego State University are currently developing 3D printed physical therapy devices that are designed to help the body conform to the way it moved before an accident. Instead of rigidly controlling the body – their device nudges and jump starts the body into a more natural physical movement pattern.

In the future, bionic and 3D printing technology may help integrate brain functions to take advantage of muscle memory. This has the potential to help people suffering from cancer and many other difficulties to regain their previous, natural manners of movement.

7. 3D cancer models

Organovo and the Knight Cancer Institute at the Oregon Health & Science University (OHSU) in Portland, Oregon announced in 2013 that they are developing more accurate 3D cancer models that could lead to new cancer therapeutics. Together, they aim to make models of cancer and metastasis that more reliably predict the safety and effectiveness of new therapeutics. These representative human disease models have the potential to improve drug discovery and development for a number of diseases, including cancer.

8. 3D printed cancer drugs

Researchers from Parabon NanoLabs of Reston, Virginia are working with nanoscale fabrication technology to 3D print, molecule by molecule, exactly the compounds they need for a drug to combat the lethal brain cancer glioblastoma multiforme. Rational drug design processes are used try to craft pharmaceuticals based on knowledge of how certain molecular pieces will work together in a biological system. For example, some molecules are good at finding cancer cells, while others are good at latching on to cancer cells, while still others are capable of killing cells. Working together as part of a larger molecule, these pieces could prove effective as a cancer treatment. 3D bioprinting gives doctors and researchers new tools in drug development.

9. 3D printed adaptive devices

3D printed adaptive devices, customized for individual needs, may improve the quality of life for people who have difficulties resulting from cancer or other ailments. Students with disabilities from the Hereward College in Coventry are using 3D design and printing technology to create personalized adaptive equipment. Experts in additive manufacturing and adaptive systems from the University of Warwick are helping students with restricted physical movement to create 3D printed gadgets to solve everyday problems such as eating and drinking. Small things, like a bespoke straw, can make a big difference for some people – and 3D printing technology makes it possible for individuals to design materials in their environment to match their body's needs.

10. 3D printing in memoriam

Sarah Jenner was five when she passed away after a struggle with inoperable brain cancer. She and her father were huge fans of Mechwarrior Online. In October, a special "Charity Mech" was developed in her honor and made available for 10 dollars with all proceeds going to the Canadian Cancer Society. 3D printing can thus be used in remembering loved ones and supporting research to prevent and treat these diseases.

Posted in 3D Printing Applications



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