May 14, 2015 | By Simon

These days, it’s hard to not go a week or two without hearing how 3D printing is helping to drastically change the way that traditional medical procedures have been done for years; whether it’s as ‘simple’ as a basic 3D printed prosthetic or as complicated as creating a teaching aide for a spinal surgery procedure.

Among others who are helping to revolutionize the future of medicine is Massimo Moretti - an entrepreneur who is no stranger to the additive manufacturing community.

Moretti’s WASProject - which is based in Italy - has been focusing on a wide variety of 3D printing projects over the past few years including 3D printing ceramic bones to creating a large scale delta-style 3D printer with the promise of being able to print homes in developing countries using clay and soil.  

Now, the organization that calls itself a “a humanistic experiment “ that focuses on “finding solutions to making dreams come true” is turning their attention from 3D printed houses to 3D printing applications for the medical industry - starting with a partnership with the Rizzoli Orthopedic Institute to bring two 3D printed medical devices to reality.

As a part of their partnership, WASP and Rizzoli will be developing 3D printed braces and casts (which they refer to as “tutors”) as well as 3D printed cranial bone implants - both of which will be printed using PLA filament.

However, unlike the familiar desktop FDM 3D printers, WASP will be using one of their custom-built 3D printers that features a larger nozzle and larger filament, which can rapidly speed up the fabrication time to under 20 or even 10 minutes in some cases.

In order to ensure that the “tutor” braces and casts fit efficiently after being printed at such a large scale, they will be printed completely flat before being heated up and custom-fitted to the wrist of the patient.  This process is already being used in some cases however the use of 3D printing to create the base cast will not only drastically cut down the cost - but also the time it takes to get the patient fitted.  Additionally, WASP has incorporated the use of large holes that will enable the wearer to use the tutor in wet situations.  Additionally, WASP is looking into the possibility of soon adding conductive material to the tutors - which will allow for the use of electromagnetic fields to help speed up the healing process.           

While the production of the 3D printed tutors will help drastically lower the price of having a custom brace similar to existing 3D printed prosthetics, it is perhaps the cranial implants that might have a more significant breakthrough.

The implants - which are built from three different layers - allow for a skull to both be supported after an injury while also allowing for the skull to regenerate itself over time; while two of the three layers provide structure and break down over time, the other facilitates in the regeneration of bone growth through an ossification process.  The ultimate goal of the project is to allow surgeons to be able to utilize 3D scans of a patient’s skull and manufacture an implant directly in the operating room.    

Both WASP and Rizzoli have been in contact with multiple medical professionals about launching the cranial implant while the 3D printed tutors, and are expecting to enter clinical trials shortly.

“The social impact of a project like this is huge,” WASP told 3Ders.   

“The (devices) that are used today cost thousands of euros.  One day it will be possible to produce them for just one-hundred euros. It will also be possible to operate not only in hospitals but in war zones too - where these kinds of problems are a daily issue.”

Posted in 3D Printing Applications


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