Apr 22, 2016 | By Tess

3D printing technologies have helped to make significant advancements within the field of healthcare, in terms of more efficiently producing custom prosthetics, creating custom surgical guides, creating assistive devices for patients, and even in better understanding certain conditions and diseases. In seeing the impact the technology has made in so many areas of the healthcare field, we at 3Ders asked ourselves what the potentials of 3D printing could be in regards to a poorly understood, but quite common disease: Alzheimer’s.

Alzheimer’s Disease, a chronic neurodegenerative condition that accounts for up to 70% of dementia cases, has to this day remained one of the most enigmatic diseases in terms of its causes, and still has no real treatments. While no explicit use of 3D printing has been used to help treat or prevent the disease, we have investigated various possible benefits of the technology for patients of Alzheimer’s as well as for doctors and scientists to better understand the disease.

As Alzheimer’s Disease manifests in the brain, effectively causing parts of the brain to atrophy, understanding the brain’s growth and structure could play an important role in eventually finding a treatment for the disease. Recently, an international team of researchers actually used 3D modeling and printing technologies to recreate a growing brain to better understand how the folds of the human brain’s cortex are formed. The 3D printed brain model was created based off of MRI images of a fetal brain—which does not possess folds—and was made to mimic how a real brain grows. The process revealed that the brain’s growth is not only a biological, but also a physical process. According to the team of scientists coming from Harvard University, and Universities in Finland and France, the findings gathered from their 3D printed brain model could potentially help them understand and make early diagnoses for neurological disorders, such as Alzheimers, through the identification of certain topological markers.

Another study, which investigated the “role of visualization and 3D printing in biological data mining”, found that using 3D printing in order to visualize and study nonphysical concepts could be a useful way to understand and represent scientific data. As the study suggests, “The scientific community in particular is constantly trying to find new, creative ways to more easily and accessibly organize and interpret scientific data. A data set may remain unchanged, but the number of ways in which data can be displayed, viewed, represented, and subsequently interpreted are virtually limitless. It is through the application of this multimodal analysis process that we are able to gain a well-rounded understanding of the information that we wish to understand.”

In the study, the researchers used bio-data from a case of late onset Alzheimer’s disease (LOAD) to create a 3D printed model that represented the condition’s genetic interaction network. The 3D printed model was created in order to study how 3D printing could offer additional insight into digital 3D models of bio-data. Ultimately, the study  suggested “by supplementing our digital visualization techniques with a physical, tangible counterpart produced by 3-D printing technology, we may unlock ideas and insights about the data previously unattainable with only a digital model.”

While 3D printing could prove beneficial in Alzheimer’s Disease research, whether by creating brain models to be studied, or by physically rendering bio-data sets, it could also make a difference in the lives of people already suffering from the disease. For anyone who has had a friend or family member suffer from Alzheimer’s Disease, you are aware of how hard it can be to see your loved ones lose their memories and their faculties, and are equally aware of the responsibilities you have to keep your loved ones safe. To help not only Alzheimer’s patients, but also their families, maker Logan Prasser developed an affordable and pocketable 3D printed GPS device to help prevent patient’s from getting lost. The DIY GPS device, posted on Instructables, consists of a micro controller, a GPS module, cell module, and batteries, all contained within a small 3D printed case. While a range of GPS trackers exist, Prasser wanted to make a simple, and affordable model that he hopes will alleviate some stress for both Alzheimer’s patients and their caregivers.

Other efforts have also been made to help Alzheimer’s patients with 3D printing technology, such as using additive manufacturing to create physical models to help stimulate Alzheimer’s patients’ memories. Photographs and memory aids can be an important part in the life of an Alzheimer’s patient, as they can keep them not only in tune with their current time and location, but also help them to remember distinguishable moments from their pasts. With the capability to recreate virtually any object on a 3D printer, one can imagine the impact of placing a miniature model of an Alzheimer patient’s favorite childhood toy or their family’s car, in their hand.

While it remains to be seen what quantifiable differences 3D printing can make in understanding and treating Alzheimer’s Disease, there seems to be significant indication that the technology could potentially aid Alzheimer’s researchers in their task, as well as help Alzheimer’s patients.



Posted in 3D Printing Application



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