By Stuart K. Williams, Ph.D.
Executive and Scientific Director
Cardiovascular Innovation Institute
Of all the new technologies being developed today, perhaps none will have a bigger impact on medicine than 3d prining. As Stuart Williams of the Cardiovascular Innovation Institute explained during a session at the recent Medical Technologies 2014: A Frost & Sullivan Executive MindXchange, there are many opportunities for medical technology companies to start looking for ways to bring this technology to healthcare.
It is now well recognized that the in vitro assessment of new drugs and devices and tissues created for implantation in patients must utilize tissues that exhibit three-dimensional structure, Williams said. Bioprinting, the biological equivalent of computer-assisted design and computer-assisted manufacturing, is rapidly emerging as the method of choice to construct 3D micro-physiologic systems for pre-clinical and clinical applications.
Tools That Will Revolutionize Healthcare
Bioprinting is on the forefront of 3D printing technology. It can revolutionize healthcare and alter the course of the medical industry by giving doctors tools to see exactly what they are facing in patients prior to surgery. Bioprinting may even be used in the future to create complete new organs for transplants in patients.
The concept of 3D printing has been around since 1859, Williams said, when Francois Willeme created the breakthrough imaging technique called photography. Charles Lindbergh and Alexis Carrel further explored the idea in the 1930s, as David M. Friedman’s The Immortalists discusses. In the 1980s, Chuck Hull patented stereolithography as a means of successively printing thin layers of an ultraviolet curable material one on top of the other.
While the idea of printing biological material is still emerging, 3D printing has many uses in healthcare already. For example, use of bioprinting in pre-surgery and scaffolds reduces some of the expertise required to perform procedures and enables physicians to work with models of organs in advance of opening up patients on the operating table.
Greater Efficiency, Lower Risk
Commercial bioprinting systems print guides for implantation of appliances into the mouth. Bioprinting 3D models will allow physicians to examine and practice on mock-ups prior to cutting into a patient. Those guides allow PAs to perform work that used to fall on dentists, such as drilling. The ability to reduce risk during procedures through the use of 3D-printed models can be applied in a variety of situations, including cardiovascular surgery and neurovascular separation of conjoined twins.
Medical technology companies need to explore these areas to see just how well it can be used for physicians in all areas of healthcare. Companies can also look at how bioprinting can be applied to other new medical technology in the future.
Collaboration Will Be Key
Williams said medical technology companies should collaborate with doctors who have adopted bioprinting and see what can be done to better facilitate this revolutionary technology. Information pulled from various industries within healthcare can be used to help advance the use of 3D printing.
Bioprinting will also lead to the development of other new technologies, and likewise, other technologies will need to be developed to allow for effective use of bioprinting. For example, there’s a need for technology to help in the input of medical information into a computer to be used as a script for printing organs. Medical technology companies should be looking into this so they can begin to develop new products to meet those needs.
The ability to bioprint human organs is emerging. One such example is the Total Bioficial Heart™ the Cardiovascular Innovation Institute is developing. For further advancement, companies must partner with those in the medical profession to grow their knowledge. In order to successfully bioprint and implant human organs, technology companies need to know a lot about biology and the glue that holds structures together.