3 d printingA boy who was born without fingers has been given a hand by a volunteer from a charity called Enabling the Future, a collective that encourages the owners of 3 D printers to make hands for those that need a prosthesis. It took only 20 hrs to print and create and Joe said ‘ It does not feel robotic at all‘. Within a few hours he had learnt to pick up eggs and it can rotate at the wrist and his fingers can clench. The digital designs are free to download and copy.  Ten designs are available with cool names like Cyborg and Raptor. 3D printers now cost only £300 and 3 D printed arms are much lighter and can be easily customised compared to old fashioned prosthetics.

3D printer egg

An article in last months BMJ described how 3D printing could transform health care.

1. Combining the technology of 3 D printing with the internet. A with Joe’s case the web can make a blue print accessible from any location and this makes it possible to produce, for example a replacement aortic valve immediately when a 3D printer is available.

2. When combined with medical imaging bespoke structures can be made. For example last year, Craig Gerrard consultant orthopaedic surgeon used CT scans to make a bespoke pelvis for a patient with cancer in his bone. 3D printers translate digital models into solid objects by selectively spraying polymers, powder or metals layer onto layer until a 3D object is built.

3. 3D printing can be used in regenerative medicine. Use of harvested and cultured human cells can produce tissues and even organs. Labs have produced skin, cartilage and even bladders and blood vessels by seeding cells on to a 3D scaffold printed with biological materials such as collagen. The ability to print viable organs could revolutionise medicine. Almost exact, new copies of the patient’s organs could be formed from their own cells [so rejection would not be a problem]. It could reduce deaths among patients awaiting transplants, and has the ability to cure many long term conditions. The production of composite organs [those made of different cell types] is challenging because of limits on printer resolution, blood vessels needed to supply organs and development of appropriate micro architecture. Stem cells may be helpful to an extent as they seem to have a ‘genetic memory’ and when the encounter the right environment [substrate and structure] they seem to recognise it and develop in to the appropriate cell.

It is an exciting time. 3 D printing has the potential to transform health care.There are ethical, moral and technical challenges but as the article in the BMJ states;

‘It is perhaps only a matter of time until the science fiction concept of translating CTscans [computed tomograms] into human organs becomes a reality.’

mouse with human ear created by 3D printers

The above picture is of a mouse ‘growing a human ear’ produced by a 3D printer.

The medical schools will stop interviewing soon. So this will be my last post till July. I hope you have found them useful. And GOOD LUCK IN THE EXAMS  !