Aug 8, 2016 | By Alec

The Dutch city of Utrecht is already well known in 3D bioprinting circles, largely thanks to the fantastic efforts of the University Medical Center Utrecht’s Tissue Factory. This research lab, run by Jos Malda, recently even completed a test with a 3D bioprinted rabbit shoulder implant. But Utrecht could become a full-fledged medical 3D printing HQ in the near future, as the UMC Utrecht, the Hogeschool Utrecht and the ProtoSpace Foundation have just joined forces in Utrecht3DMedical. Through this collaborative enterprise, they are aiming to push the boundaries of 3D bioprinting and even realize 3D printed organs.

This new research lab has just moved into a small laboratory on the edge of the city, but is scheduled to open a major lab in the heart of the Utrecht Science Park later this year. It’s the first independent 3D printing lab in the Netherlands that has been completely dedicated to 3D bioprinting, and Utrecht3DMedical is ambitious.

Specifically, they will be working to combine artificial materials and biomedical materials such as collagen and gelatin to build new implantable organs. “The advantage of 3D bioprinting is that you can make a new knee to fit perfectly – without waiting for a donor,” said one researcher. “A skull transplant that took place in the UMC Utrecht two years ago is a good example. A young woman was given a new, custom-fitting carbon fiber skull – the first time such a surgery was performed.”

But in a growing market for 3D printing, it became necessary to bundle forces. “While the popularity of 3D printing is growing, the medical sector is hardly using it. All individual parties have extensive experience with this technology, but we can really achieve things and realize international shifts by working together,” argued Faculty of Nature and Engineering director Do Blankenstijn of the Hogeschool Utrecht.

What’s more, they feel that their collaboration will allow them to optimally benefit from existing innovations within the 3D printing industry. They are seeing that the efficiency of medical 3D printing is increasing, especially when it comes to converting scans to printable files and working with patient-specific models, aides and implants. The need for multiple CT-scans is decreasing, while 3D printed surgical models are helping doctors realistically prepare for surgeries – drastically reducing the invasiveness of many procedures. The time is thus right for the next step.

The Hogeschool Utrecht, a technical college, will be focusing on the engineering portion of 3D printing, while the UMC Utrecht provides the biomedical expertise. ProtoSpace, meanwhile, has extensive experience with various 3D printing technologies – starting out with regular 3D printed vases when founded, before moving on to prosthesis prototype development.

So when can 3D printed organs be expected? That, unfortunately, can take years to decades to realize – depending on technological innovations and financial means. “The difficulty is in building organs from unnatural materials that are still accepted by the human body. While 3D printing synthetic material is easy, the same process kills the living cells,” researcher Joost Sluijter says. The new lab is currently in talks with industry partners to develop a series of business cases to attract more investors. If successful, Utrecht could become a major 3D bioprinting hub in the near future.



Posted in 3D Printing Technology



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