27 January 2015

3D printer as a cure for all diseases

"Doctor, can you print me a new heart?"

Olga Kashubina, Newslab.ru

Sometimes it even becomes scary to think about the incredible acceleration with which modern technologies are developing. Even in the foreseeable past, 15 years ago, it was cool to have an inkjet black-and-white printer at home, but now many are seriously eyeing portable 3D printers that can recreate, for example, a lost part from a food processor, a basketball or... fantastic armor for a cosplay party.

But technology is primarily a public benefit, not private entertainment. For example, for the medical field, the spread of 3D printing technologies opens up truly limitless opportunities for the treatment of diseases and injuries that previously caused lifelong disability of a person or even led to his death.

More and more people around the world are acquiring "spare parts" and 3D models of their bodies that allow doctors to deal with pathology: for example, to figure out how best to get to the insidious cancer that has grown between vital organs, or to plan a complex operation on the heart muscle. Surprisingly, often the idea to print an organ comes not to doctors, but to patients and their relatives, who are trying their best to save the situation: they themselves develop software and come up with materials for a future model, and then go to the doctors with a ready-made proposal. Over time, such unique cases become precedents – and inspire hope in patients with similar diseases around the world.

After studying several examples of the use of 3D printing in medicine, I divided them into several groups - depending on the purpose of creating models.

3D printing in operations planningIf modern medical technologies, such as computer or magnetic resonance imaging, allow you to see a 3D projection of internal organs on a computer screen, then why not print the desired model on a printer?

After all, it's one thing to look at a picture, and another thing is to hold in your hands an exact copy of the part of the body that needs to be cured.

During the EuroEcho-Imaging 2014 conference, which took place in Vienna in December last year, Dutch doctor Peter Feshooven demonstrated to the assembled colleagues a 3D model of the human heart printed on a high-tech printer. While under normal conditions, children with congenital malformations sometimes require up to 4 operations at different times of life to eliminate the defect, a plastic copy of the heart can reduce the number of interventions to 1-2, since doctors have the opportunity to choose and plan the necessary surgical reception in advance. In addition, with the help of a 3D heart, it will be easier for the doctor to explain to patients and parents the essence of the defect and methods of its treatment.

Another example is that the wife of American 3D designer Michael Balzer was diagnosed with a meningioma – a brain tumor with a diameter of 3 cm, which was located behind the woman's left eye. In accordance with the standard surgical technique, in order to remove the formation, it was necessary to do a trepanation and actually move the brain inside the skull. This, in turn, threatened death on the operating table or unpredictable complications after the intervention. Balzer did not want to take such a risk and independently created a 3D model of his wife's skull with a tumor on the inside of the eye socket. Turning to the US neurosurgical community on the Internet, the designer quickly found a doctor who was ready to remove the tumor microinvasively, through a small incision above the patient's left eye. The doctor noticed that by the time of the operation, the tumor was already so large that it touched the optic nerve, and after a few months, Balzer's wife could go blind. But now she is healthy and, according to her husband, a small scar on her eyelid is visible only to her.

Similarly, pioneering 3D printing doctors create models of pelvic organs to prepare for a complex operation, and cosmetic surgeons can show the patient in advance what his face will look like with a modified nose shape.

Functional prosthesesIf 3D printing of layouts does not require a complex selection of materials, then the creation of functional prostheses can be considered the next step in the evolution of the 3D medicine printer gone berserk.

For example, several patients have already returned to a full life after receiving a lower jaw prosthesis (it is often destroyed due to tumor diseases or severe maxillofacial injuries).

3D printing is also suitable for printing vertebrae: scientists claim that such structures can be implanted even in childhood, because, thanks to its porous structure, with age it becomes overgrown with full-fledged bone tissue. A 12-year-old boy in China has already become the lucky owner of such an artificial bone this summer.

A "volumetric" printer can help with the loss of other bones of the body – for example, the shoulder blade or heel bone.

Cosmetic prosthesesFans of the series probably remember the creepy mask of Dr. Thackery's former lover from Knickerbocker Hospital, behind which she hid the flaws of a syphilis-stricken face.

Nowadays, it has become much easier to hide cosmetic defects after injuries and diseases, which is important for the patient both from the point of view of aesthetics and from the point of view of physical comfort.

A prosthesis printed on a 3D printer can be unique, and it can be created even without the participation of doctors. Here's an example from Russia: a girl named Olga, who was fond of extreme sports, lost a calf muscle, which led to a visible asymmetry of the shins. Moscow 3D printing specialists made a kind of cosmetic orthosis for her (and earlier these same guys developed several finger prostheses for children and adults).

Another example is related to 3D printing of skull bones, which are often damaged in road accidents. In these cases, the plates covering the defect have both a protective and cosmetic function. Previously, they were made of titanium, but modern technologies allow replacing 75% of damaged bones with a plastic copy, on which, among other things, small details are engraved that stimulate the growth of bone tissue cells around the "patch".

Printing of organsAnd, finally, the pinnacle of aspirations is the seal of fully functioning organs.

There is no need for donation and fear of losing a kidney or liver due to an overly carefree lifestyle. But here everything is somewhat more complicated: after all, stem cells should act as "ink" for the device, which must be arranged in the correct sequence so that the future organ functions as a "natural" one.

But the possibilities of human thought seem to be limitless: experiments on "printing" an artificial liver are being conducted in several laboratories around the world, and Russian scientists from Skolkovo promise to create a thyroid gland suitable for transplantation this year, and an artificial kidney in 2018.

With organs that do not have a parenchymal structure (complex organization of cellular tissues), things are somewhat simpler: so scientists from the USA in May 2013 published a scientific report on the successful creation of a "bionic" ear, which contains an antenna sensitive to radio waves and living cells.

In general, I suspect that while I was writing this text, some other medical application for 3D printing was invented in the world. And in about 15 years, this article is in the archives Newslab.ru it will cause laughter – similar to what, for example, a note in a Soviet newspaper about the possibilities of new-fangled arithmometers can cause today. Well, so be it.

Portal "Eternal youth" http://vechnayamolodost.ru27.01.2015

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