The new trend in medicine is the ability to build 3D structures containing living cells. Researchers and surgeons are now developing inks containing tissue engineering polymers and living cells to build tissues in three dimensions. The goal is to print synthetic organs and tissues, that can be used for transplantations. This new form of bioengineering raises many challenges, that include structural, as well as ethical components. Let's see some of the applications that will shape the future of treatment.
Professor Choong and his team, in the university of Melbourne, designed the BioPen, a handled device that let surgeons draw live cells and growth factors directly onto the site of an injury in bones or cartilage. It is a light, easy to use tool that can be brought in and out of the operation room, while as a manually operated tool it allows the surgeon to achieve the desired structure.
b) Synthetic Skin
3D printing offers the opportunity to help with all sorts of dermatological issues from cancers, through to burns, ulcers, inflammatory problems and delayed wound healing. The ability to fabricate individualised biofabricated skin to the patients needs and the use of the patients own cells will bring us closer to the successful treatment of these problems. These strategies will solve a lot of the issues due to the use of grafts, xenografts and donated skin.
Scientists in the University of Madrid have presented a prototype for a 3D printer that can produce fully functional synthetic skin. Recently, researchers from the University of Toronto presented a new portable 3D skin printer for deep wound treatments. This technology can be easily integrated in the daily clinical praxis in the future.
Another use for bioprinting skin is testings for the cosmetic and pharmaceutical industry. This scenario will eradicate the use of lab animals, that are traditionally used in clinical testings.
c) Synthetic Organs
Organovo showed promising results in printing liver, kidney, heart muscle and lung tissue. We are not far from manufacturing synthetic organs for transplantations. These synthetic tissues can also be used in the pharmaceutical industry, to replace the classic animal models, in researching the effects of different drugs.
In veterinary medicine transplantations are still in embryonic stage. The upcoming aspect of cost effective synthetic organs could totally transform the way we apply treatment in a variety of conditions and diseases.
d) Brain Tissue
Scientists in Australia have created a 3D printed layered structure incorporating neural cells, that mimics the structure of brain tissue, using special bio-ink made from stem cells. The synthetic brain-like tissue shows great advantages in researching not only the effects of drugs, but also several brain disorders as schizophrenia, Parkinson's disease and epilepsy.
e) Controlled Drug Delivery Systems
More futuristic projects aspire to design control delivery systems for releasing anti-inflammatories, immunosuppressant agents, as required for medical implants. Other applications are working on biofabricating skin that, in a timed way, will help to release pharmacologic agents to promote wound healing.
At the moment, researchers are working on creating 3D structures in the treatment of epilepsy. The goal is to enable us to provide drugs in different quantities and times and potentially to be able to trigger that release on demand or in response to some signal from the brain, such as seizure activity.
3D Printing in Pharma
In 2015 Spritam, a drug for epilepsy, became the first 3D printed drug approved by the FDA. The unique structure of the drug, because of the way it was manufactured let it dissolve faster that the average pill.
Imagine a future where we will be able to print the drugs we need in our clinic. How much more comfortable would it be for the daily clinical praxis?
A new 3D printing method from the Langer Lab at Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) has developed a way of making vaccines that release multiple doses of a drug over a controlled period of time.
When dealing with stray animal populations, shelters, and the developing world, access to vaccines is unreliable. Trying to fit all animals on the same kind of vaccine schedule can be unrealistic. It would be convenient if animals could be given all of their vaccines in one shot that would release the vaccines at predetermined times.
Engineers created a microparticle that resembled a cup and could be filled with specific doses of vaccine or medicine. The cups would biodegrade at predetermined rates, releasing their content into the bloodstream based on a schedule.
While 3D printing show many benefits in healthcare and promises a lot for the future, it also raises a lot of ethical questions, that we need to consider as these technologies develop.