Oct. 24, 2014

Despite all the convenient and practical applications 3D printing technology has, its greatest potential is obviously in medical innovation. While it will take a few years before hospitals everywhere are able to use 3D printing to improve medical care and save lives, important steps are already being made in that direction.

For it’s already being used in a wide range of difficult medical cases that would otherwise leave people incapacitated or even dead; just this week we’ve been able to report on, amongst others, an Indian man receiving a 3D printed jaw implant, a 3D printed facial prosthesis for eye cancer patients, and abrain tumour case in the US.

However, South Korean scientists from Pohang University of Science and Technology (POSTECH) are already exploring the possibilities of integrating bioprinting into regular medical practise. This team is a collaboration of South Korean scientists and universities, and is lead by Professor Dong-Woo Cho of Department of Mechanical Engineering at POSTECH, Professor Jong Won Rhie of Department of Plastic Surgery, at the Catholic University of Korea (Seoul) and Won-Soo Yun of the bio manufacturing company T&R Biofab.

As one of their graduate students, Jin Woo Jung, explained to, their POSTECH lab has been researching biomedical applications of 3D printing for a long time. Their focus is specifically on tissue regeneration, and they are currently exploring the practical usefulness and marketability of this technology.

And their ambitions aren’t very modest, as their intention is to pave the way for clinical use of 3D printing. As they told, they hope that in two years’ time this project is capable of leading ‘to new market generation of 3D printing based biomedical applications’ that can service a large number of patients.

While ambitious, the technology is there already. The last few years they’ve had some astounding successes with 3 printed, FDA-approved biodegradable polymer called Poly (ϵ‐caprolactone) or PCL. This medical filament can function as bone scaffolding for fractures and other bone-related medical cases.

Not only is this material known to degrade in the body within 1 to 2 years with very little immune responses, but it also stimulates bone regeneration. Several independent studies confirmed that PCL is capable of regeneration soft and hard tissue or organs, after which the scaffolding is absorbed into the body. As the scientists remarked, ‘It could sound like science fiction, but in reality the implant will be replaced by regenerated bone tissue from adjacent bony regions.’

This innovative slice of 3D printing technology has revolutionary medical potential, and has already been successfully used in a few curious medical cases. Some years ago, the team already appealed to this technology for correcting an asymmetric face caused by removal of a tumour from a patient.

He had a trauma in the right malar region, and because of this his eyes were located not in the same horizontal line. In this type of deformities, a rib fragment is generally collected and implanted for correcting the position of the eye, but this approach leads to an additional complication to the donor site, that is the costal region.

Furthermore, the surgeon’s skill was crucial for the operation results. The team therefore resorted to 3D printing technology to design an implant made from PCL. ‘ First, we designed the 3D model of the implant with the technical support of FusionTech Co. The normal facial part (left side) was mirrored to generate structure for the deformed part (Enophthalmos, right side).’

This perfectly covered the deformed part of the patient’s features. The generated 3D model was subsequently realised by 3D Printing Systems. Finally, the implant was successfully inserted into the patient’s face, who suffered little to no side effects. ‘After this corrective surgery, the left eye of the patient could be successfully repositioned in the same line to that of the right eye and he could return to his normal life within a few days.’

For those of you with a strong stomach, you can find footage of that surgery here.

Not only does this new printing technology yield promising and biodegradable results, it also cuts general operative time down from an original eight hours, to just two.

In late 2013, however, the results of an even more moving success surfaced. For the POSTECH team had successfully completed facial surgery on a Mongolian child born without a nose or airway. The then six-year-old Nergui Baramsai had undergone a eight-month long research and surgery procedure to treat his condition, which rarely occurs and almost always leads to death within the first year.

Reportedly, Seoul St. Mary’s Hospital (CMC) decided to provide for all the medical expenses arising from the treatment, surgery and hospitalization. They also organised a considerable team of doctors from otolaryngology, pediatrics, neurosurgery, ophthalmology, dentistry and other specialities, included the POSTECH team, to treat the boy.

(Click to enlarge)

Due to the severity of his condition and several unforeseen complications, Nergui’s healing process was long and arduous and involved multiple operations. However, after a climactic surgery to create his nose, nostrils, nose bones and airways, as well as a long post-treatment process, everything was a success.

The thankful patient reportedly told his surgeons that they gave him a dream of becoming a plastic surgeon himself ‘and to help treat patients like myself.’

In other words, the technology to effectively 3D print regenerating bone scaffolding is there. And the team are even looking into other applications of this material, that could result in regenerative scaffolding for just about any tissue or organs.

Jin Woo Jung told us that they have already found successes in animal models and are now looking for further tests: ‘If these clinical cases are successful, we can grab a new market of tissue regeneration (human’s all tissues and organs) using 3D printing technology in future.’ And at this speed, that 3D printing future might be coming early.


Maybe you also like:


No comments

Be the first one to leave a comment.

Post a Comment